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NATO, Russia to jointly run missile defense shield?

April 20, 2010 at 4:49 PM

BRUSSELS, April 20 (UPI) -- NATO wants to invite Russia to join in building a massive missile defense shield over Europe, a plan that, for the first time, could bring the former Cold War enemies together for a military project.

Confidential talks between Washington and Moscow on a new concept for the missile shield have already started, NATO spokesman James Appathurai told journalists in London last week. The fresh initiative got under way after both powers signed a nuclear disarmament treaty in Prague this month.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who has been eager to improve ties with Russia, set the stage for such an initiative several weeks ago.

"We need a missile defense system that includes not just all countries of NATO but Russia, too," he said at a forum in Brussels last month. "One security roof that we build together, that we support together and that we operate together. One security roof that protects us all."

"Of course there are many practical challenges," Rasmussen added. "We would have to hook up our systems; share intelligence assessments; and link sensitive technologies. But that's precisely the point."

Appathurai was quoted as saying by Britain's Telegraph newspaper that such a security shield would convince Russians that they are "part of the same security family, inside rather than outside looking in, and this would help to address Russian concerns about walls being built with them on the outside."

"The secretary-general believes missile defense is a way to address in a very concrete way that average people understand that they're under one security umbrella, that we all run together," Appathurai added.

NATO's push to include Russia in the missile roof follows Washington's pledge to reset relations with Moscow.

In an obvious bid to please the Kremlin, Washington last year shelved plans for a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

U.S. President Barack Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had pushed for the system to defend against possible Iranian nuclear missiles but the plan caused a major rift with Russia, which took it as a direct threat to its security.

As the architecture of Obama's new system, which is based on more mobile units, hasn't entirely convinced Russia, the powers last month in Prague vowed to talk about it in the future.

Obama said he and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev agreed in Prague to jointly assess the ballistic missile threat before launching "a serious dialog about Russian-American cooperation on missile defense."

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