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Russia to go to NATO summit, eyeing missile role

DEAUVILLE, France (Reuters) - Russia will attend next month’s NATO summit as it looks to reach a compromise over a Europe-wide missile defence shield, softening its stance after reassurances from France and Germany, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev speaks during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic forum in St. Petersburg June 19, 2010. Russia will attend next month's NATO summit as it looks to reach a compromise over a Europe-wide missile defence shield, Medvedev said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchu/Files

Security is a major stumbling block in Russia’s relationship with the West and dominated talks on Monday and Tuesday between Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the northern French seaside town of Deauville.

“I will go to the Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon,” Medvedev said after the talks. “It seems to me that this will further the search for necessary compromises and the development of dialogue between the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic alliance as a whole.”

Russia has taken a cautious approach to U.S. offers of cooperation on missile defence, indicating that it wants a bigger say in evaluating missile threats and planning responses.

Moscow is concerned that the shield could be used to counter its own long-range nuclear arsenal, weakening its deterrent and leaving it vulnerable.

Medvedev told Sarkozy and Merkel that Russia was open to cooperation but needed to know more:

“We are now evaluating the idea of this proposal, but I think that NATO itself needs to understand in what form it sees Russia joining this system, what it will bring, in what manner an agreement can be reached, and how to proceed further.”

The 28-country alliance will meet on Nov. 19-20 in Lisbon to unveil a new strategic plan for the organisation.

Merkel, Sarkozy and Medvedev talked about NATO over dinner on Monday as well as the Middle East peace process and Iran, calling once again on Tuesday for Iran to comply with the United Nations Security Council and its nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.

A French presidential source said last week the shield was designed to defend the alliance from an Iranian missile attack -- not one coming from Russia. “For us this anti-missile system is to face Iran and (similar) threats. It’s as much for Russia as it is for the EU and the United States,” the source said.

A senior NATO official told journalists in Paris on Monday: “We’re not going to have a decision in Lisbon in which Russia says ‘Yes, we’re going to cooperate in a NATO missile defence system’. What we’re looking towards is a process that allows NATO, together with Russia, to expand the kind of cooperation we have on missile defence.”

France, which had earlier questioned details of the plan, says it is confident November’s summit will come to an accord.

Sarkozy said the missile system had to complement an existing nuclear deterrent, not replace it.

Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin, Emmanuel Jarry and Nick Vinocur; Editing by Kevin Liffey