Missile Shield Concerns
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, a US delegation persuaded Washington's partners that the shield poses no threat to Russia, even though Moscow is concerned the system could be widened in the future.
"The allies were convinced and are convinced that there are no implications of the United States' system for the strategic balance," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after the highest-level talks ever on the issue.
"Ten interceptors will not, cannot affect the strategic balance and 10 interceptors cannot pose a threat to Russia," he said, after meetings between the 26 NATO allies followed by a so-called NATO-Russia Council.
Washington announced in January plans to extend its missile shield into Europe to counter a potential missile attack from "rogue states" like Iran, and possibly North Korea.
It would involve 10 missile interceptors without warheads set up in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic to track any attack. This would be linked to an advance warning system, probably in the Caucasus.
Russia says it sees no need for missile shield
The move has ruffled feathers in Russia, which is deeply concerned about its former Cold War foe setting up military shop in its back yard.
"We cannot understand what Eastern Europe needs this system for," First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, a former Russian defence minister, said Thursday.
Washington has tried to ease Russia's concerns by suggesting possible areas of cooperation, including sharing early warning missile data, but Ivanov appeared to reject the offer.
"I honestly see no basis for speaking of possible cooperation," he was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Scheffer aknowledged "a difference in threat perception" between the allies and Russia.
"There is a clearly a divide," he said.
But US Assistant Secretary of State John Rood, part of the senior three-man team charged with easing Russia's fears and European doubts, said that Moscow still plans to weigh the proposals.
"The representatives in the NATO-Russia Council today... indicated that the Russian government was going to study our proposal in greater detail before providing a more full response," he said.
Russian representative Konstantin Totsky conceded the offer had not been rejected yet, but he said that Moscow has grown tired of being dictated to by Washington.
"The US colleagues give us their proposals, and then we give them our proposals and we can continue like this for years and call it a process of consultation," he said.
"I think we should have a transition from consultation to dialogue and I think we started this dialogue today," he said, adding: "We will scrutinize these proposals and we will come back to our US colleagues."
He also expressed concern that the missile shield, set to come into operation around 2013, would continue to grow.
"We know from experience that when you have a system it keeps developing, it cannot stop," he warned.
Rest of Europe also concerned
European allies are concerned about the system too, particularly that it would leave members Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Turkey uncovered, and they insisted on the "indivisibility" of the alliance's defenses.
Spokesman James Appathurai said that NATO also discussed "bolting on" its planned theater defense missile system -- aimed at protecting troops in the field but still only in the testing phase -- to the shield to cover the hole.
In any case, talks are set to continue.
Ivanov and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates may discuss the plan during a Moscow meeting next week, and the NATO allies will take it up again when alliance foreign ministers hold talks in Olso next Thursday.