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18 Sep, 2009 16:49

Rasmussen: Russia and NATO could integrate their missile-defense systems

NATO is calling for a joint missile defense project with Moscow. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s new Secretary General, discussed the initiative in Brussels during an exclusive interview with RT.

Hot on the heels of the United States mothballing the anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe, the Alliance says Russia's proposals for a new European security pact are also up for discussion.

RT: As the Secretary General of NATO, how do you evaluate America’s decision to shelve the plans for a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: These new plans will make it possible to develop a missile-defense system in Europe, which includes all allies and protects all NATO allies. And NATO will play a greater role. So I think it’s a positive step.

RT: And how will that help to improve relations between Russia and NATO?

Rasmussen: I think this decision has also made it clear that our missile defense plans are not directed against Russia. On the contrary, it is really my ambition that once in the future, and at an appropriate time, we could integrate Russian missile-defense systems and our missile-defense systems, because we all face the same threats and, therefore, we should also co-operate to counter these threats.

RT: What about this decision to shelve the plans on the part of the US and NATO?

Rasmussen: It’s an American decision to change the missile-defense plans, and I understand that the Americans have changed their plans because of new developments in technology and new intelligence assessments of the threats from short- and medium-range missiles.

RT: You seem to imply in your speech that NATO will continue with expansion plans in Georgia and in Ukraine. How does that fit in with your goal to improve the relationship that NATO has with Russia.

Rasmussen: I would like to stress that our “open door” policy is not directed [against] Russia. NATO is not an enemy of Russia. On the contrary, I think it’s also in Russia’s interests that we do our utmost to stabilize the situation all over Europe. And we know from experience that the enlargement of NATO and the enlargement of the European Union have contributed to stability, security and also economic and social development in Central and Eastern Europe. And that’s also in Russia’s interest, in my opinion.

RT: But we also know, don’t we, that the proposed expansion into Ukraine and Georgia angers Russia.

Rasmussen: Well, I would like to stress that our “open door” policy is based upon the principle that each sovereign state has a right to decide its own security policy and also alliance affiliation by itself. This is the reason why our treaty clearly states that NATO may invite any European country which is in the position to further the principles of our treaty to accede to the Alliance. And again, this “open door” policy is not in any way directed against Russia. On the contrary, I would very much like to develop a strategic partnership with Russia.

RT: Russia and NATO have been trying to co-operate for a long time. But, what has always gotten in the way seems to be the lack of trust from both sides. Has anything really changed?

Rasmussen: Well, I will do my best to convince the Russian political leadership and the Russian people that NATO is not an enemy of Russia. On the contrary, we would very much like friendly relations between Russia and NATO. And I think there is a growing awareness on both sides that we need each other. We are confronted with the same threats from terrorism, from proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, from piracy. I also think Afghanistan constitutes a common threat. If we allow Afghanistan, once again, to become a safe heaven for terrorists, then terrorism could easily spread from Central Asia to Russia. So, it’s also in Russia’s interests that we succeed in this area. In all these areas there is a scope for practical co-operation between NATO and Russia.

RT: One of the few issues, in which NATO and Russia do see eye-to-eye at the moment is Afghanistan. In fact, Russia’s experience and help is proving very useful there. Do you think that NATO needs Russia more than Russia needs NATO?

Rasmussen: I think we need each other. And I appreciate very much that Russia has provided transit transport, which facilitate our operation in Afghanistan. And I would very much like to look closer into how we could further Russian engagement in our operation in Afghanistan.

RT: Russia-NATO relations have focused on the negative in recent times, and now you seem to be saying that you want NATO to focus on the positive. Isn’t that just sweeping fundamental issues under the carpet?

Rasmussen: No, on the contrary, it’s a very important part of my philosophy and my strategy, that we should be quite open about disagreements. We should realize that in certain areas we do have real disagreements. And let’s discuss it. But, my point is that we have a number of areas, in which we are faced with the same security threats. So, instead of always focusing on what divides us, we should focus on what unites us in our common interest, to fight against terrorism, proliferation of dangerous weapons and against piracy, just to mention some examples.

RT: Mr. Rasmussen, thank you very much for talking to RT today.

Rasmussen: You are welcome.