Barack Obama

Despite suspicions, Obama urges better Russia ties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama called for better ties between NATO and Russia on Tuesday and said the two sides should work together even as Moscow voiced suspicions about revamped U.S. missile defense plans.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, September 29, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Obama, who recently announced a shift in plans for an anti-missile system in Europe, said he and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen agreed on the need to improve relations with the military alliance’s former foe.

“It is important for us to reach out to Russia and explore ways in which the missile defense configurations that we envision could potentially lead to further collaboration with Russia on this front,” Obama said after meeting with Rasmussen at the White House.

“We want to improve generally not only U.S.-Russian relations, but also NATO-Russian relations, while making absolutely clear that our commitments to all of our allies in NATO is sacrosanct,” Obama said.

Earlier this month Obama scrapped a Bush-era missile defense plan for Europe, bitterly opposed by Moscow, that would have included ground-based interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic.

The new plan, which the administration said was designed to address more immediate threats from Iran, would involve deploying U.S. ships with missile interceptors and, in a second phase, fielding land-based defense systems.

Russia originally welcomed Obama’s shift, but the country’s NATO envoy said on Tuesday Moscow still feared its strategic nuclear weapons could be threatened by the new system.

Obama said he and the NATO chief agreed the new plan was best for the alliance.

“We both agreed that the configuration that we have proposed is one that ultimately will serve the interests of not only the United States, but also NATO alliance members most effectively,” he said.

“It allows for a full collaboration with NATO members, and we are very optimistic that it will achieve our aims and deal with the very real threat of ballistic missiles,” he said.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman