BRUSSELS (AP) ― Russia and NATO remain deadlocked on a long-running dispute over the alliance’s plan for a missile shield for Europe, officials said Thursday, and Russia warned that time was running out for an agreement.
NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reported no progress toward a deal on the contentious issue, following a key discussion among alliance foreign ministers and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that came amid political turmoil in Russia and tart criticism of the United States.
Fogh Rasmussen rejected Russian criticism that NATO is ignoring its concerns that the planned missile system might one day be turned on Russia. He said discussions with Russia will continue and he expressed optimism for an initial deal before NATO’s next global summit, in Chicago in May 2012.
“We listen, and we have listened today,” Fogh Rasmussen told journalists after the meeting with Lavrov at NATO headquarters.
Lavrov, who speaks perfect English, spoke in clipped Russian immediately after Rasmussen.
“Unfortunately our partners are not yet ready for cooperation on missile defense,” Lavrov said.
He left the door open for more talks, “provided that legitimate concerns of all parties are taken into consideration.”
Russia has insisted on a treaty that would be binding on the United States and its allies, guaranteeing that the anti-missile system would in no way threaten Russia’s own ballistic missiles. The U.S. has said it’s willing to adopt a nonbinding written agreement, but that a treaty is unworkable.
“No ally within NATO is going to give any other country outside the alliance a veto over whether NATO protects itself by building a missile defense system against threats we perceive are the most salient,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.
“It’s not directed at Russia, it’s not about Russia, it’s frankly about Iran,” she said, adding it was “certainly not a cause for military countermeasures” by Russia.
Clinton left immediately after the NATO meeting for a visit to the Netherlands.
The talks in Brussels came as Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blasted Clinton on Thursday for encouraging and supporting the election protesters and warned of a wider Russian crackdown on unrest.
By describing Russia’s parliamentary election as rigged, Putin said Clinton “gave a signal” to his opponents.
“They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began their active work,” Putin said in televised remarks.
Russian protesters have taken to the streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg for three straight nights despite heavy police presence, outraged over observers’ reports of widespread ballot box stuffing and manipulations of the vote count in Sunday’s parliamentary election.
When asked about Putin’s comments, Clinton said the U.S. valued relations with Russia and the two countries have made progress working together. She pointed to NATO’s military supply route across Russia to Afghanistan as an example of that cooperation.
“At same time the U.S. and many others around the world have strong commitments to democracy and human rights,” she said. “We expressed concerns we thought were well founded about the conduct of the elections.”
With the political situation in Russia at its most perilous in years and talks on the missile defense plan at an impasse, Washington and NATO need Russia’s urgent help to deliver war supplies for Afghanistan. Russia effectively holds a veto card over the best alternate overland supply routes after Pakistan shut its border gates in protest of a Nov. 26 U.S. air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
U.S. missile defense plans in Europe have been one of the touchiest subjects in U.S.-Russian relations going back to the administration of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Russian objection to the plan is now clouding President Barack Obama’s efforts to repair relations and threatening to undo progress in other areas.
One of Obama’s earliest moves to ease tensions was the administration’s 2009 announcement that it would revamp Bush’s plan to emphasize shorter-range interceptors. Russia initially welcomed that move, but has more recently suggested that the new interceptors could threaten its missiles as the U.S. interceptors are upgraded.