Nato invites Russia to help with missile defence shield

New era sought that will bring Moscow in to 'become part of the family'
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Russia should be brought under "one security roof" with the West by allowing Moscow to playing a key role in "building and operating" a common, nuclear-defence shield, the Secretary-General of Nato has said.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for Russia to "become part of the family" ahead of a Nato conference this week which will – volcanic ash permitting – trace the future of the alliance in a world posing vastly different threats from those that became familiar during the Cold War.

After the US-Russian arms-control treaty, confidential talks have started between Moscow and Washington on a new concept for the missile shield, the Nato chief spokesman, James Appathurai, has confirmed. President Barack Obama has already scrapped the Bush administration's plans to site the missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, a proposal which had incensed Moscow and generated one of the most serious crisis in East-West relations in recent years.

George Bush had offered to share selective information with Moscow and insisted that the shield was aimed at so-called "rogue states" such as North Korea and Iran. Vladimir Putin, then Russia's president, rejected the argument and said placing the system in two former Warsaw Pact countries was another attempt by Nato to encircle his country.

Mr Rasmussen has now indicated that Nato is ready to go a long way towards meeting Moscow's concerns. "We need a missile-defence system that includes not just all countries of Nato, but Russia too," he said. "One security roof, that we build together, and that we support together, and that we operate together. One security roof that protects us all."

Nato's new strategic concept is being put together by the former US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, and the organisation's Group of Experts. Initial discussions will start in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, this week, if the volcanic ash crisis allows officials to attend. The final form of the strategy will need the agreement of all member states at another meeting in November.

President Dmitry Medvedev has faced criticism from some quarters at home for supposedly conceding too much in his arms deal with Mr Obama. In particular, there have been complaints that the new treaty had not placed any limits on the planned nuclear shield.

Just last December, Mr Putin, now Prime Minister, was insisting that the missile defence system should form part of the treaty signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev. Last week, General Nikolay Makarov, the head of Russia's armed forces, and deputy minister of defence, stated that Russia should take part in the building of the shield "only as equals ... With full rights and assessing all the threats".

General Makarov warned: "If there is a threat, and our missile complex is vulnerable, we will withdraw from the Treaty [Start, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty]." Mr Appathurai, the Nato spokesman, stressed that it was imperative to reassure Moscow about Western intentions. "Secretary-General Rasmussen has made it clear that he wants Russia to be brought intothe heart of the system ... it will address their concern about being surrounded."

But the war between Georgia and Russia two years ago and its aftermath remains an unresolved issue between the West and Moscow, said Mr Appathurai. "All relations on that matter are frozen," he said. "And no Nato member stare will recognise [the independence of] Abkhazia and South Ossetia", territories captured from Georgia by the Russians. But, he continued: "Georgia must not be allowed to paralyse all relations."