Deal on NATO missile shield could be sealed at summit
US optimistic Russia will accept plan, report says
WASHINGTON — The United States and its NATO allies are close to an agreement to erect a missile shield over Europe, a project that would give the military alliance a fresh purpose while testing President Obama’s campaign to improve relations with Russia.
The deal is likely to be sealed at a two-day NATO summit starting Friday in Lisbon, officials say, as part of what the alliance calls its new “strategic concept’’ — the first overhaul of its basic mission since 1999.
The summit will include Obama and leaders of the 27 other member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia will join a separate NATO-Russia session on Saturday.
Outlines of the deal were provided to the Associated Press by American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal allied deliberations.
Under the arrangement, a limited system of US antimissile interceptors and radars already planned for southeastern Europe would be linked to expanded European-owned missile defenses. That would create a broad system that protects every NATO country against medium-range missile attack.
NATO plans to invite Russia to join the missile shield effort, although Moscow would not be given joint control. The gesture would mark a historic milestone for the alliance, created after World War II to defend Western Europe against the threat of an invasion by Soviet forces.
The Bush administration first proposed stationing 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic, saying the system was aimed at blunting future missile threats from Iran.
Russia was furious, saying the missiles threatened the deterrent value of its nuclear arsenal. At one point Moscow warned that if the plan went forward, it would station missiles close to Poland.
The Obama administration canceled the original plan in September 2009, and later proposed building elements of the missile shield in Poland and Romania, two NATO countries closer to Iran.
The United States has asked Turkey, also a member of NATO, to host some of the radar defenses and to approve the proposal for a Europewide defense network. Turkey has hesitated, saying it does not want the system explicitly to target Iran, its neighbor.
US officials close to presummit talks were optimistic that the proposed European missile shield’s remaining obstacles could be overcome. They said Russia seems to be seriously considering NATO’s plan, while Turkey’s concerns could be finessed.
“The Russians seem to be playing ball and seem to be somewhat open-minded about this,’’ said F. Stephen Larrabee, a specialist in European security issues at the RAND Corp. think tank. In Larrabee’s view, though, NATO must still persuade Moscow that the planned system will not undermine the credibility of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Other analysts agreed that Turkey’s concerns about singling out Iran can probably be answered as well. “I would be surprised if this proved to be a deal-breaker,’’ said Steven Pifer, a Russian affairs specialist at the Brookings Institution.
NATO leaders also are expected to adopt a broad strategy for shifting responsibility for Afghanistan’s security from the US-led NATO forces there to the Afghans, beginning in the first half of next year and finishing in 2014. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is expected to attend one NATO session on the war.
Saturday’s NATO-Russia session is expected to discuss a bigger Russian role in the Afghan conflict. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said last week that Russia has been asked to contribute about 20 transport helicopters and provide training for Afghan helicopter pilots.
In adopting the new strategic concept, NATO is trying to adapt itself to deal with 21st century security threats. In Europe, “there is less fear of foreign intervention or aggression than there ever has been before in the history of the North Atlantic alliance,’’ Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States, told a recent conference.