Top NATO official counters Russia threat as waste

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2011 2:44 PM
Top NATO official counters Russia threat as waste

Russian countermeasures to NATO's ballistic missile defense system would be a waste of money because they would be aimed at an "artificial enemy," NATO's top official said Wednesday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened last month to deploy missiles to Kaliningrad and other areas of Russia to be aimed at U.S. and NATO missile defense sites in Europe, unless a deal is reached assuaging Russian concerns.

Although NATO says it needs the system to defend from possible threats from the Middle East and that it can't pose a threat to Russia's own nuclear deterrent, Moscow sees the plans as a security challenge.

"Russia and NATO ... have a shared interest to protect our populations against a real missile threat, and it would definitely be a waste of valuable money if Russia started to invest heavily in countermeasures against an artificial enemy that doesn't exist," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

U.S. officials acknowledged Wednesday that missile defense discussions with Moscow are at an impasse. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the policy publicly.

The U.S. will keep making the case that the system is not directed at Russia, the officials said, acknowledging that attempts to make that argument have fallen on deaf ears. Washington, the main backer of the missile defense idea, has argued for more than three years that a missile shield for Europe is aimed at countering a possible threat from Iran.

Rasmussen said he hoped the contentious issue could be resolved before a summit between NATO and Russia in Chicago next May.

He was speaking ahead of a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers that will review progress in Afghanistan, plans for the missile defense system, and troubles in Kosovo.

The meeting follows a conference in Bonn, Germany, where some 100 nations and international organizations pledged to keep supporting Afghanistan after foreign combat troops withdraw in 2014.

"It is of utmost importance to ensure that Afghan security forces will continue to be able to take responsibility for security beyond 2014, and we stand ready to assist," he said.

The Bonn conference was overshadowed by a public display of bad blood between the United States and Pakistan, the two nations with the greatest stake and say in making Afghanistan safe and solvent.

Pakistan boycotted the meeting to protest an errant NATO airstrike last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the rough border with Afghanistan.

Islamabad also closed down the supply routes that NATO members use to deliver supplies to the 130,000-strong coalition force in landlocked Afghanistan.

So far, the U.S. and NATO have had sufficient supplies on hand in Afghanistan. But if the closure continues, NATO will have to reorient its entire logistics chain to the so-called Northern Distribution Network through Russia and Central Asia.

For most of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, 90 percent of supplies shipped to the international force came through Pakistan. But over the past three years, road and rail shipments from NATO's European members via Russia and the central Asian nations have expanded and now account for about half of all overland deliveries.

Rasmussen dismissed suggestions that Moscow may retaliate against NATO's missile shield plans by cutting the flow of supplies to Afghanistan.

"I believe this is an empty threat, it is clearly in Russia's self interest to contribute to success in Afghanistan," he said.

NATO's 28 ministers also will meet on Thursday with their Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to discuss closer cooperation on Afghanistan and the disagreement over missile defense systems.

Another issue on the agenda is Kosovo, where NATO still has about 5,500 troops serving as peacekeepers nearly 13 years after the brief war that expelled Serb forces from the mainly Albanian-populated province. Since then, Kosovo has unilaterally declared its independence, which Serbia and part of the Serb minority in Kosovo refuse to recognize.

Clashes between the Kosovo police and Serb nationalists broke out this summer over who would control two border posts with Serbia in northern Kosovo, which the minority Serbs run as their own enclave. Several dozen peacekeepers were injured in clashes with Serb protesters after they tried to remove trucks and buses blocking the road to the border crossings.

But Fogh Rasmussen said there had been positive developments in recent days, with tensions easing following a border management agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.

"The good news is that Belgrade and Pristina have reached agreement on integrated crossings, and we have seen removal of the first roadblocks."

He also suggested it would "be beneficial" if the European Union granted Serbia candidate status at a summit this week. The EU is divided over whether to make Serbia a candidate for membership, a key step in the accession process, because of the violence.

NATO had intended to cut the force in Kosovo next year by about half, but the recent troubles have put those plans on hold.

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Slobodan Lekic can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slekich