NATO eyes missile shield progress with Russia after U.S. move

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, May 21, 2012

From Gabriela Baczynska, Reuters:  NATO hopes a U.S. change to global missile defenses will dispel Russian concern and foster cooperation on an issue that has long strained relations, alliance Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said in an interview.

Russia has said U.S. missile shield plans could erode its nuclear deterrent. It has softened criticism since Washington announced on March 16 that it would station 14 missile interceptors in Alaska in response to North Korean nuclear threats and at the same time forgo a new type of interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe.

However, Moscow has said it wants a series of consultations on the new shield set-up and U.S. and Russian defense officials are expected to hold talks on that in the coming weeks. . . .

"The change in the U.S. plans … just simply makes the situation much less ambiguous," Vershbow told Reuters. "There is now no reason for concern that the system going into Europe will have any effect whatever on Russia’s strategic deterrent.

"We think there is a real window of opportunity and we hope that the Russians seize it," said Vershbow, who has held talks with senior officials from the Russian foreign and defense ministries as well as President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. . . .

"On both the NATO-Russia and U.S.-Russia tracks, we hope the dialogue will pick up speed so that we can get at least closer to some kind of a deal on missile defense cooperation," said Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

"To the extent we are able to make some progress on missile defense, it might also facilitate renewed dialogue on nuclear arms reductions both at the strategic level and the non-strategic level." He said broader NATO-Russia ties would get "a shot in the arm" if progress was made on missile shields.  (photo: Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

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