The European missile shield is up and running, says NATO Secretary-General Fogh Rasmussen, who announced its “interim capability” to shoot down incoming missiles. Earlier Russia voiced strong concern over the issue.
The “interim operational capability“declared by Rasmussen at the NATO summit in Chicago on Sunday is the first step to fulfilling the controversial scheme to defend the whole of Europe against ballistic missile attacks. The final stage, planned for 2022, is also set to provide coverage for the United States from Europe.
Moscow has repeatedly stating its concern, demanding legal guarantees from the alliance that the shield will NOT be targeting Russia’s nuclear capabilities.
Rasmussen stressed that NATO must be able to defend itself against missile threats, and said the move “cannot be blocked by Russia“, it’s a NATO decision.
However, NATO leaders have sought to appease Russia’s anger over the system by renewing an invitation to work with the alliance. “We have invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense and this invitation still stands”,Rasmussen told a news conference.“We will continue our dialogue with Russia and I hope that at a certain stage Russia will realize that it is in our common interest to cooperate on missile defense.”
NATO continues to insist that the shield is not aimed at Russia.
During the summit, Francois Hollande, France’s new president, laid out his country’s conditions for support of the antimissile initiative and said other countries, including Russia, should not feel threatened by it.
Earlier, Moscow warned that it is prepared to use “destructive force preemptively” if the US goes ahead with the missile defense system based in Central Europe.
‘No rush for the exit’ from Afghanistan
Afghanistan dominated the summit’s agenda, with leaders quarrelling over the pullout strategy. Most continued to support the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline, though the newly inaugurated French President, Francois Hollande, indicated that he was not going to backtrack on his campaign promise for an early pullout.
US President Barack Obama stressed that it was important to maintain unity as the mission draws to an end. “Just as we have sacrificed together for our common security, we will stand together united in our determination to complete this mission,” he said during the summit’s opening session, as quoted by Reuters
His words were echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We went into Afghanistan together, we want to leave Afghanistan together“, she told reporters.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen also stressed that it was important to “maintain solidarity,” and that “there will be no rush for the exits.”
But Francois Hollande said he will stick to his decision to pull his country’s troops out of Afghanistan by this year’s end, arguing that it was “pragmatic”.
General John Allen, commander of the joint ISAF troops in Afghanistan, downplayed the impact of France’s decision. “We have the capacity, using our current force structure, to ensure there is no degradation in security,” he said.
Another contentious issue on the table is funding for the Afghan police and security forces. The US, not keen on being the only benefactor, is hoping its allies would chip in with US$1.3 billion.
Also invited to the summit was Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardar, whom the US is also hoping to coax into reopening supply routes for NATO troops in Afghanistan which were closed after a US aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.
‘No intention’ to intervene in Syria
The issue of Syria was also touched on by the NATO Secretary-General. While Rasmussen voiced concern over violence in the country and urged the Syrian regime to comply with the UN ceasefire and peace plan, he indicated that NATO had “no intention” of taking military action against Syria.
“We strongly condemn the behavior of the Syrian security forces and their crackdowns on the Syrian population and we urge the Syrian leadership to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said during a news conference. “But again NATO has no intention to intervene in Syria.”
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti was forced to leave the summit early following a deadly earthquake in the north of his country, and a fatal bombing in the south.