NATO chief dismisses Russian missile defense worry

"This question of missile defense remains... the big elephant in the room"

From David Rising, APNATO‘s secretary general said Saturday the alliance has no intention of backing down on its plans for a European missile defense system, despite ongoing criticism from Russia.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a small group of reporters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that in dealings with Moscow "this question of missile defense remains … the big elephant in the room." But he said NATO’s decision has been made and he hopes Russia will work together with the alliance on the issue.

"We have made clear from the outset that NATO has made the decision to establish a NATO missile defense system because it’s our obligation to ensure effective defense of our populations," Fogh Rasmussen said. "Having said that, we have invited Russia to cooperate and … now it’s up to Russia to engage in that."

The comments came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the gathering of top diplomats and defense officials that NATO’s missile defense program and eastward expansion have caused undue friction reminiscent of the Cold War.

"Officially we have abandoned the mindset of the Cold War — Russia and NATO countries say that they do not see each other as adversaries … but we should admit that we should still come a long way to match our words with deeds," Lavrov said.

The U.S. and NATO say the missile defense plan is aimed at fending off an Iranian missile threat, but Moscow has rejected the claim, saying the system may eventually grow powerful enough to threaten Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Fogh Rasmussen flatly rejected the criticism, saying: "I clearly denounce these allegations."   (photo: Reuters)

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