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NATO Urges Russia To Abandon '19th-Century' Mind-Set

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said, "We...need to move beyond a 19th-century 'Great Game' idea of sphere of influence."
MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) -- NATO has said it was willing to include Russia in discussions over a missile shield but does not consider serious defense cooperation possible unless Moscow abandons old thinking.

On February 6, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov sent conciliatory messages to new U.S. President Barack Obama, saying Moscow would not start new missile deployments if Washington reviewed plans for a missile-defense system in Central Europe.

Speaking at the same security conference in Munich, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer backed cooperation with Russia on the missile shield, which Washington says is aimed at protecting against attack from "rogue" states like Iran.

"I think real trans-Atlantic cooperation on missile defense including Russia is very doable and would, I think, make those who might threaten Europe with missiles think twice," De Hoop Scheffer said.

He said he also supported the idea of discussions Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has proposed on a broader Euro-Atlantic security architecture, which many NATO allies have expressed a willingness to take part in.

However he added: "I cannot see how we can have such a serious discussion of such a new architecture, in which President Medvedev himself says territorial integrity is a primary element, when Russia is building bases inside Georgia, a country that doesn't want those bases.

"That cannot be ignored and it cannot be the foundation of a new European security architecture," he said.

De Hoop Scheffer was also concerned that Kyrgyzstan had announced in Moscow this week plans to close a U.S. air base used to supply forces in Afghanistan, saying this was at least "incongruous" with Russian support in other ways for the international operation there.

"We...need to move beyond a 19th-century 'Great Game' idea of sphere of influence," he said.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, whose country would host part of the U.S. shield, also said the United States and Central European countries should cooperate with Russia on the plans but Moscow could not have a veto.

"It is important to develop the future missile-defense system," he said, saying it would protect Western countries from Middle East threats. "Russia should be invited to this cooperation but must not have a veto over it."

Former U.S. President George W. Bush sealed deals last year to deploy 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. Moscow has condemned the plan and threatened to put its own missiles near the Polish border in response.

Ivanov added that Moscow was eager to hold talks on the shield with the Obama administration and was open to a joint assessment of threats with the United States.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due to speak later on February 7 in Munich and speculation has been rife that he could announce a review of the missile-shield plan, but the Czechs and Poles remain determined to press ahead with it.