“They say there’s no need for discussion,” Lavrov told reporters after a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. “They say, ‘This is the best possible option. . . . No, no, this is the best way, it’s not targeted against you.’ . . . We’d like our partners [in NATO] to have respect for our intellectual capability.”
The council was organized 10 years ago, but cooperation stalled in 2008 after Russia moved troops into breakaway regions of Georgia, a former Soviet republic. Talks have since resumed and were boosted last year when NATO invited Russia to join a new “strategic partnership” with the West, and to participate in a missile defense system it says is designed to fend off attacks from the Middle East — and Iran in particular.
But NATO-Russian negotiations over how the alliance would work are running into obstacles, with Russia expressing particular concern over an agreement by Turkey, among other NATO members, to host components of the system on its territory.
The northern-based Turkish radar “will be duplicating existing radar” in the southern part of that country, Lavrov said, and “covering a substantial part of Russian territory.”
Russia has demanded what it calls a “signed agreement” that the system will never be pointed at Russia or used to interfere with Russian defenses.
In a Thursday news conference after the meeting but before Lavrov spoke, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the alliance has listened to his concerns. “I hope Mr. Lavrov has also listened to NATO concerns,” he said.
Rasmussen on Wednesday evening said the disagreement reminded him of “confrontations of a bygone era,” a reference to the Cold War period of NATO’s origins.
Clinton, who headed the Obama administration’s delegation to the NATO session, said that the kind of “legally binding” guarantee that Russia demands would not happen. At the same time, she emphasized that the missile defense system was no longer motivated by a need to counter a threat from Russia.
“No country in the alliance is going to give Russia or any other country a veto . . . against the threats that we perceive are the most salient,” Clinton said. The system, she added, is “not directed at Russia; it is not about Russia. It is, frankly, about Iran, and other state and non-state actors that are threatening to develop missile technology.”
Clinton said NATO and Russia are cooperating on supply routes and other important strategic issues and must “keep working to try to forge agreement” on missile defense.
“We always said we wanted it to be an all-weather forum,” she said. “So when times are good, we have a chance to share our views, and when there are issues to be resolved, we will not shy away from doing so.”
Rasmussen said that NATO had offered the Russians written assurances that the system is not aimed at them and will not be used against them. “We know that if we can reach agreement on this issue, it will take our relationship to a new level,” he said.
U.S. officials have said that the European part of the system would begin to become operational by the next NATO summit in May, “with or without” Russian participation.
DeYoung reported from Brussels.