September 16, 2010 / 7:53 PM / 10 years ago

Missile defense key to boosting Russia ties: NATO

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Russian participation in a planned missile defense shield in Europe could open the door to progress in other areas such as reducing nuclear and conventional weapons, the head of NATO will say on Friday.

But in a speech he will make in Rome, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will underline that the large Russian military presence in breakaway territories of Georgia and Moscow’s plan to station missiles there are stumbling blocks to such goals.

Rasmussen invited Russia on Wednesday to hold talks with the 28 NATO states at an alliance summit in November at which he wants the Western allies to agree to link existing missile defense systems and to formally invite Moscow to participate.

Moscow has been cautious about the plan, even though NATO has said the defense system is designed as protection against a perceived threat from Iran, not Russia.

“Progress in missile defense can create a better climate for progress in other areas critical to European security, including when it comes to conventional weapons,” Rasmussen will say in his speech, according to a draft seen by Reuters.

“If we build missile defenses in Europe outside of a NATO framework, and without a clear offer to Russia, it will create new dividing lines, between who is in and who is out.”

He will argue that Russian involvement in the missile defense system could “reinforce a virtuous circle” — not only creating conditions for conventional arms control but diminishing the perceived need to rely on nuclear protection.

“If Russia and other countries feel like they are inside the tent with the rest of us, rather than outside the tent looking in, it will build trust ... Controls on conventional weapons make it easier to contemplate diminishing reliance on nukes.”

However he will warn that the Convention Forces in Europe Treaty, from which Russia has suspended its participation is currently on “life support,” and it would become politically difficult and eventually impossible for NATO allies to abide by its provisions if Russia did not.

“And if we get to that situation, it will introduce real instability into Europe — something we do not need or want.”

Rasmussen will say that NATO would continue to highlight the need for respect of the CFE principle of host nation consent for the stationing of forces on its territory, and that this applied to Georgia — which objects to the stationing of Russian troops in its breakaway regions .

But he will say a shared desire by both Moscow and NATO to move forward on CFE could help unfreeze the deadlock over that country.

reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Charles Dick

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