In the second day of their summit in Berlin, foreign ministers from NATO's 28 member states discussed cooperation with their eastern partners and sought common ground with Russia over a joint missile defense shield.
NATO and Russia have sought deeper cooperation
The NATO military alliance on Friday sought increased rapprochement with its former Soviet eastern partners, as the bloc began hashing out plans for a joint missile defense system with Russia.
"We have not agreed on how to build (a common missile defense) architecture," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Friday. "But it is about a common objective, namely the effective protection of populations, in Russia as well as NATO countries, against a real threat."
NATO laid the foundation last November for a common missile shield with Russia, but until Friday the partners had not discussed concrete details of the system, which they intend to establish by 2020.
One shield, two concepts
In previous years, plans developed under former US President George W. Bush for a US missile defense system based in former Eastern Bloc countries had put strain on the West's relations with Russia.
Though tensions have relaxed since current US President Barack Obama abandoned Bush's plans, differences between Russia and NATO remain apparent in the preliminary discussions of a common defense shield.
Russia wants to see a shared command post to ensure that the shield is not aimed at its own missiles, while NATO has opted to establish two separate systems designed to be run by their respective authorities in close cooperation.
In addition to its discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, NATO ministers planned to meet with Georgian Foreign Minister Gregory Vashadze, whom NATO Secretary General Rasmussen thanked for Georgia's "substantial contribution to the common engagement in Afghanistan," where it is the second largest non-NATO troop provider.
Georgia hopes to join NATO by implementing more democratic reforms
Georgia has been promised NATO membership as soon as it fulfills the bloc's criteria and Vashadze told the ministers his country was still committed to implementing the required reforms.
"Work remains to be done for the Georgian government to adopt and implement necessary reforms, and to cooperate with the opposition on implementing democratic reforms," read a statement approved by NATO and Georgia.
NATO ministers, meanwhile, urged Georgia to make substantial democratic reforms before its 2012 elections.
NATO ministers also met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Konstantyn Hryshchenko to discuss their partnership. Ukraine's Moscow-friendly government has no intention of entering the bloc, but Rasmussen spoke approvingly of President Viktor Yanukovych's cooperation with the alliance.
Moscow condemns airstrikes
The ministers' two-day Berlin summit began with discussions of the bloc's intervention in the current Libyan crisis, revealing continued international divisions regarding the scope and legality of the allied air campaign.
Moscow condemned the airstrikes in Libya as reaching beyond the legal parameters set by the international community.
"Today, we can see actions that in a number of cases go beyond the mandate of the UN Security Council," said Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on Friday.
"We believe it is important to urgently transfer things into the political course and proceed with a political and diplomatic settlement," he added.
Western unity and division
Despite Russian criticism of the military campaign, NATO foreign ministers expressed clear demands of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi: no further attacks on civilians, a retreat of his troops and unhindered access for the Libyan people to humanitarian aid.
France, Britain and the US vowed to see Gadhafi out of Libya, although the question of expanding NATO military operations in the country - as advocated by Britain and France - remained unanswered.
Russia said the NATO air war over Libya reaches beyond the UN mandate
Germany remained steadfast in its decision not to engage military against Gadhafi, although Chancellor Merkel stood behind the international community's decision.
"The resolution is in effect," she said. "The international community stands together."
Despite its reluctance to join a new war, Germany has expressed willingness to participate in a potential EU military mission to secure humanitarian aid destined for Libya. However, the United Nations has said such a mission is not necessary at this point in time.
Author: Spencer Kimball, David Levitz (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer