DEAUVILLE, France (Reuters) - The leaders of France, Germany and Russia meet Monday to try to cement improved relations and seek common ground over NATO missile defense plans which Moscow sees as a potential threat.
Security is a major stumbling block in Russia’s relationship with the West and will dominate talks between Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev and Chancellor Angela Merkel in the northern French seaside town of Deauville, ahead of a NATO summit in Lisbon next month.
“Confidence is key, the Cold War is over, the Warsaw Pact is over, Russia is our friend and we want to be theirs,” Sarkozy told a news conference. “We now find that the risks and threats France, Germany and Russia have are the same.”
Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said earlier that Moscow was wary of accepting an invitation to the NATO summit and needed more details about an offer to cooperate over missile defense.
While the United States and NATO say the plan is aimed at countering a missile threat from Iran, Moscow is concerned it could also be used to counter Russia’s long-range nuclear arsenal, weakening its deterrent and leaving it vulnerable.
“We do not want to be hit with any surprises in Lisbon. We need to understand what this means in principle -- the parameters of the missile defense system, who it will be aimed against, who will press the button (i.e. who will control it),” Rogozin told Itar-Tass news agency last week.
Medvedev, speaking to new foreign ambassadors to Russia after accepting their credentials at a Kremlin ceremony on Monday, said Russia was trying “to overcome stereotypes” in relations with the West and dispel Cold War myths on both sides.
“We will discuss life in Europe, we will discuss European security,” Medvedev said, adding that Russia was awaiting firm answers from the West on his calls for a binding new treaty governing European security.
“We would like this potential document, and other efforts that our country is making in the area of providing security, to be met with a worthy response in the world,” Medvedev said.
Russia’s calls for a “new European security architecture” have so far met a cool reception from NATO, but Russian foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said Medvedev would keep up his push for a European security treaty.
Russia, France and Germany all opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but ties since then have been strained by France’s return to NATO’s military wing, Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008 and its gas disputes with Ukraine, the key transit route for Russian gas supplies to the rest of Europe.
The Deauville talks come at a time when the three powers’ interests are converging.
“We sit in one boat when it comes to the real dangers of the 21st century,” Merkel said.
The Obama administration has sought rapprochement with Moscow, NATO membership for ex-Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia is on the back burner, and Russia is pursuing a policy of engagement toward its former Warsaw Pact satellites.
Obama last year shelved plans by his predecessor George W. Bush to install a land-based missile shield in Europe to guard against long-range threats from Iran.
“The relationship is still fragile,” a French presidential source said. “There are no assurances that this (better ties) is an irreversible strategic choice.”
Sarkozy and Merkel met before a dinner with Medvedev and three-way talks Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Sarah Marsh in Berlin and Paul Taylor in Paris)
Editing by Tim Pearce