Thursday, December 17, 2009

NATO will never attack Russia: Alliance chief

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has sought to reassure Moscow that the alliance poses no danger to Russia amid Kremlin bids for a new European-Atlantic defense pact.

After talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders on Thursday, Rasmussen questioned the need for the new security treaty proposed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"Let me make a very clear statement as Secretary General of NATO: NATO will never attack Russia. Never. And we don't think Russia will attack us. We have stopped worrying about this and Russia should stop worrying about us as well."

However, Rasmussen, during a speech to students and diplomats in Moscow, urged both sides to stop viewing each other as threats.

According to a draft published on November 29, Medvedev envisions a post-cold war security pact to replace NATO and other institutions. It focuses mainly on military security and seeks to restrict the ability of any country to unilaterally use force.

While repeatedly appealing for aid in Afghanistan and urging greater cooperation in the war-torn country, Rasmussen said he did not "see a need for new treaties or new legally binding documents because we do have a framework already."

He did not dismiss the possibility of "discussing" the ideas in the right forum, namely the 56-member state Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The trip marks Rasmussen's first visit to Moscow since taking office on August 1, 2009.

The NATO chief said recent rows should not prevent Russia and the military alliance from confronting a common security threat from Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Rasmussen conceded that he had not received any firm offer of support from Moscow in response to his requests for Russia to provide Kabul with helicopters and training support, saying that he had never expected to get a firm response this week.

Old cold war-era hostiles between the alliance and Russia have remerged following the brief conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. US-supported plans to attract and embrace more ex-Soviet states within the alliance have also intensified rifts.

US President Barack Obama, who recently pledged 30,000 extra troops to the war in Afghanistan, is pressuring NATO to secure more support as public opposition and mounting death tolls have forced some European governments to ponder commitment to the surge.

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