NATO, Russia consider joint missile defence plan

The US is the main backer for the plan to make missile defence NATO-wide.

Moscow: NATO and Russia might discuss the possibility of cooperating in an alliance-wide, anti-missile system, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

President Dmitry Medvedev would examine any proposals on such a shared defence system, Lavrov said during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

NATO nations are currently discussing whether the alliance should set up a system to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles targeted on any point of alliance territory.

A common defence system stretching "from Vancouver to Vladivostok" would send out "a powerful political signal" Rasmussen said after the talks in Moscow.

NATO-member US is the main backer for the plan to make missile defence NATO-wide, arguing that that is the best way to stave off the threat of a possible nuclear strike from Iran.

Rasmussen said there was a possibility of Russia joining the alliance in the long-term, but a strategic partnership was more important initially.

Ties between Moscow and NATO have been slowly improving since a chill triggered by Russia`s invasion of Georgia during a brief war in August 2008 over breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia and NATO were at the beginning of a new phase in their relations, the NATO chief said, pointing to the attendance of Medvedev at a NATO-Russian summit in Lisbon later this month.

The summit offered the chance finally to make the transition from the Cold War to a partnership of equals, said Lavrov. Such a partnership was a precondition for joint cooperation in the missile defence system, he added.

Turkey is emerging as the main obstacle to NATO plans to set up the anti-missile system because it does not want to worsen tensions with its neighbour Iran, according to diplomats in Brussels.

NATO leaders are set to decide the question at their summit in Lisbon on November 19-20. The Lisbon summit is also expected to invite Russia to join the missile defence system at a later stage.

Rasmussen also stressed greater cooperation with Moscow over Afghanistan, where Russia is now permitting further transportation through its territory to supply NATO troops.

Lavrov said the Kremlin was willing to increase the transit possibilities and allow its territory to be used by NATO-led troops and equipment returning from Afghanistan.

Success by the international community in combating terrorism in Afghanistan was important for Russia, although it did not want to get involved militarily, the foreign minister added.

The Soviet Union fought a decade-long war in Afghanistan before it was forced to pull out its forces in 1989.

Rasmussen said he expected Russia would provide helicopters for the Afghanistan operation and called on Moscow to do more to help train anti-narcotics agents in Afghanistan, the world`s biggest producer of illicit opium.

Last week, a joint operation by US and Russian special forces destroyed four drugs laboratories in Afghanistan.


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