- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said yesterday he believes the United States and Russia can avoid a clash over the Bush administration's plans for a new defensive shield against missile attacks.
"There is a chance to have a productive approach with the Russian side" on missile defense in a "climate of cooperation," Mr. Fischer told reporters in Washington.
The German diplomat is wrapping up a series of meetings with top Bush administration officials this week, a month after he visited Moscow. The missile-defense idea has been repeatedly attacked by Russia and China, who claim it could eventually overwhelm their own nuclear deterrents.
Mr. Fischer said Russian leaders have concluded they cannot stop U.S. plans, and he said he had urged Moscow to work to shape the debate over the system rather than oppose it outright.
But he added much of the discussion will depend on just which system the United States eventually deploys, from a regional missile defense that could be used against a rogue state such as North Korea or Iraq all the way up to a global system that could theoretically protect the United States, Europe and Russia.
While continuing to criticize U.S. missile-defense plans, Russian officials this week have been pitching their own missile-defense alternative, designed to protect Russia and Europe, to NATO General Secretary George Robertson.
While cautioning that details are sketchy, both Mr. Fischer and U.S. government officials said the Russian offer shows Moscow concedes there is a security threat that missile defenses can address.
"We welcome the fact that Russia recognizes that Europe faces a serious threat from weapons of mass destruction and missile delivery systems, and that Russia believes that defensive systems are necessary for protection and stability," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will discuss the competing missile-defense ideas when they meet for the first time Saturday in Cairo.
Mr. Fischer said yesterday he was heartened by Mr. Powell's positive response to plans for a new European Union defense force, which some have worried could in time duplicate or even compete with the NATO military alliance.
He said the EU force, like the introduction of the euro, was part of a larger integration process on the continent that the United States should welcome.
"Europe step by step is leaving the arena of national states," he said, adding that only a confident and secure European Union can be an equal partner with the United States on a global scale.
He also denied that plans to add new members to NATO next year in Central and Eastern Europe constituted a security threat to Russia, which has looked upon NATO enlargement with deep suspicion.
"We already have the experience of one round of enlargement for NATO, and where is the threat to Russian interests? I don't see it," Mr. Fischer said.
He acknowledged that the debates over missile defense and the EU security force have created strains in the trans-Atlantic alliance, but he added, "Tell me a time when there have not been tensions in NATO."
Mr. Fischer, who heads Germany's Green Party, refused to talk about his own political problems at home. He faces a perjury inquest over testimony he gave concerning his activities as a radical student activist in the 1970s.
"I've talked too much" on the subject, he said. "Whenever I say something, it's turned against me."

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