KIEV | Russia should embrace Western plans for missile defense because they will strengthen international security, Poland's foreign minister said Wednesday before talks between Moscow and the Western military alliance.
Radoslaw Sikorski also told Reuters that NATO's core task remained the defense of its member states and said that should not be compromised by the current U.S.-led drive to "reset" severely strained ties with Russia.
"Russia should recognize that missiles will be a major threat in the 21st century. ... We in Poland believe missile defense is necessary and we are glad that the rest of NATO is coming round [to supporting it]," he said during an interview on board a government plane flying to Ukraine.
The Nov. 20 NATO-Russia meeting in Lisbon, part of a two-day summit of alliance leaders, will examine what input Moscow may have in a U.S.-backed missile defense system and will also discuss coordination on issues from Afghanistan to piracy.
The Kremlin opposed the Bush administration's plans to deploy elements of an ambitious missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic aimed at longer-range missiles, saying they could compromise Moscow's large nuclear arsenal.
Washington insisted the shield was to defend against rogue states such as Iran, not against Russia.
President Obama scrapped the shield plans and has instead proposed smaller sea- and land-based interceptors targeting shorter-range missiles, but Russia remains wary.
Asked about the chances of overcoming Moscow's concerns, Mr. Sikorski said: "The question is whether NATO will build its own system but we are not even at the planning stage yet, just at the conceptual and political stage. ... So much depends on the kind of system we finally decide on and Russia's reaction."
NATO leaders are expected to agree in Lisbon to spend $273 million over 10 years on linking their existing missile defense systems and the missile interceptors and radar Washington plans to deploy in Europe.
"Poland is eyeing strong backing for the NATO MD [missile defense] after the summit," Mr. Sikorski said.
Despite Poland's efforts to mend its own ties with Russia, long strained by missile defense, NATO's eastern enlargement and historical issues, its continued distrust of Moscow two decades after the end of the Cold War was evident in Mr. Sikorski's remarks.
"While we should cooperate with Russia as much as our mutual interests require, NATO remains a military alliance whose primary mission is the protection of the territory of its member states, and that mission must be credible," he said.
"The safer all members feel, the more open they are for 'resets' and for friendly relations with nonmembers."
Poland, shaken by Moscow's short war with Georgia in 2008, strongly welcomed NATO's new Strategic Concept, or vision statement, which is expected to be approved in Lisbon, because it reconfirms the alliance's core commitment to collective defense.
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