On the first day of the NATO meeting in Lisbon, allies agreed to set up the first-ever Europe-wide anti-missile defence shield, inviting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (pictured) to take part as well.
AFP - US President Barack Obama and his NATO allies agreed Friday to set up a new anti-missile defence shield across Europe and to invite Russia to take part.
The deal means NATO leaders will set up a network of radars and interceptors forming an anti-ballistic missile shield extending over Europe and possibly linking with Russia too.
"I'm pleased to announce that for the first time, we have agreed to develop a missile defence capability that's strong enough to cover all NATO European territory and populations, as well as the United States," Obama said after a first session of the two-day NATO summit in Lisbon.
Russia had been fiercely critical of a US missile defence plans, seeing it as a direct threat to its nuclear deterrent.
But the 28 NATO powers hope President Dmitry Medvedev can be won over in discussions with the alliance on Saturday, the first encounter at this level since Moscow waged a war in Georgia in 2008.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he expects Russia and the Allies to begin a joint study of Russia's possible inclusion in the missile defence system, which would be a significant softening of Moscow's position.
In a "strategic concept" released Friday setting out NATO priorities for the next decade, the leaders agreed to "develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defence."
"We will actively seek cooperation on missile defence with Russia and other Euro-Atlantic partners," they said.
The broad agreement marks a significant advance for Obama's scheme, first announced in November 2009 when he ditched plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe, the cause of a Cold War-style row with Russia.
Obama decided to replace the shield, the brainchild of former US president George W. Bush, with a more mobile system targeting Iranian short-range and medium-range missiles, initially using sea-based interceptors.
Before leaving Moscow, the Russian party said it was keen to share ideas about common missile defence but played down the chances of a major decision realigning the continent's security.
Rasmussen said Russia would likely be invited to link up with the NATO missile umbrella rather than merging its defences with those of the alliance, set up in 1949 to contain the Soviet Union.
"I think, realistically speaking, we can't start by merging our systems into one common missile defence system," Rasmussen said earlier in the day.
"Realistically speaking, I think we should think of two separate systems that cooperate. We could exchange information and data and thereby make the whole system more efficient and give better coverage."
In addition to wooing the Russians, NATO allies have tiptoed around Turkey's concerns about its sensitive relations with neighbour Iran.
Diplomats had been discussing publicly identifying Iran as an emerging missile threat but Turkey had refused to countenance this possibility and Tehran did not figure in the document released.
ARMEN GEORGIAN REPORTING FROM LISBON FOR FRANCE 24