NATO leaders look for fresh start with Putin

President Vladimir Putin attends the summit's closing meeting on Friday. On Thursday, NATO leaders urged Russia to consider linking up its missile defences to a US anti-missile shield. (Report: K.Spencer)


Russian President Vladimir Putin holds an unprecedented meeting with NATO leaders Friday amid deep divisions over the alliance's expansion but possible common ground in Afghanistan.

Putin is due to deliver an address during their summit in Bucharest with expectations high that he will invite the alliance to use Russia for transit to the war in Afghanistan.


President Valdimir Putin arrved in Bucharest, on Thursday, just hours after the NATO’s decision to put the question of Georgia and Ukraine’s memberships on hold. He will be attending the Russia-NATO Council for the first time  following the official close of the three-day meeting.


In their summit declaration on Thursday, NATO leaders urged Russia to consider linking up its missile defences to a US anti-missile shield and another system the alliance plans to develop to provide cover to some allies that would otherwise be left out.

"We are ready to explore the potential for linking United States, NATO and Russian missile defence systems at an appropriate time," their statement said.

Washington announced in January 2007 that it wanted to install 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic to cover US territory and that of some European allies, and wanted it operational by 2013.


NATO leaders endorsed the U.S. missile shield for Europe saying in its final statement that they "recognised the substantive contribution to the protection of the allies" from the missile defence system to be deployed in the CzechRepublic and Poland.

Moscow opposes the move because of the threat it poses to their strategic interests in the region, it says. But NATO leaders said they "are committed to maximum transparency and reciprocal confidence building measures to allay any concerns."

Ukrainian and Georgian membership postponed


Having failed to agree to open the door of the Western military alliance to Ukraine and Georgia, NATO leaders pledged to welcome the former Soviet republics in the fold without granting them official candidate status.


Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko described the promise of future membership as a "victory" on Thursday, according to Russia's Interfax news agency. 


The NATO summit promised to be heated, in a Romanian capital on veritable war footing for the occasion: the biggest gathering in history of the Atlantic alliance, which continues through April 4th.

The United States has openly pushed for the membership of the two former Soviet republics. Though welcomed by many Eastern European countries that are now NATO members, the plan faced opposition by a dozen other countries, particularly Germany and France.


The compromise statement "hails the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia," stressing the two country's credentials for future membership of the alliance. NATO leaders also agreed to invite the Balkan nations of Albania and Croatia to join the Atlantic alliance in the near future.


Meanwhile, Greece issued its veto on plans for neighbouring Macedonia to join the alliance. In conflict with the former Yugoslav republic ever since the latter's independence, Greece has repeatedly stated its opposition to talks on NATO membership until Macedonia changes its name.


France pledges 700 extra troops for Afghan mission


France could return to NATO’s integrated military command next year, said French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the alliance’s summit in Bucharest.

"Let Europe's defense pole advance and we will continue to advance toward NATO. I repeat, these are two things that go together, not one or the other, so let's wait for the summit" in 2009, he said.

According to a speech handed out by his office, Sarkozy had been ready to tell NATO leaders here that France would decide when to reintegrate after its presidency of the European Union ends on December 31.

"After the French presidency, the time will have come to conclude this process, and to take the necessary decisions for France to take its full place in the structures of NATO," the prepared speech said.

Sarkozy dropped the sentence when he delivered his remarks, but later told reporters that he stood by the text of the speech.

France was a founder member of NATO, but then-president Charles de Gaulle pulled out of the alliance's integrated military command in 1966.


The French president also confirmed Paris would send an extra battalion of 700 soldiers to eastern Afghanistan. “France will also take over command of the central region (of Afghanistan) for a full year, starting this summer,” he said during a speech held behind closed doors.


To get more in-depth, watch Top Story with Robert Parsons: NATO split over Ukraine, Georgia.


Also watch the interview with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, our guest on The Talk of Paris.

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