BRUSSELS- NATO proposed a new era of cooperation with the United States and Russia on Friday, calling for joint work on missile defense systems after Washington scrapped a planned anti-missile system.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described as correct and brave President Barack Obama's decision to drop the missile shield planned for Europe by predecessor George W. Bush. Russia's NATO envoy welcomed the NATO co-operation proposals.
Some military experts saw the moves as a sign of weakness by Obama, that Moscow hardliners would want to exploit further. Putin called in a speech on Friday for Obama to follow up with concessions on trade and technology transfer.
Others described abandonment of the system as a bold gesture that could improve frosty relations between the West and Russia.
I do believe that it is possible for NATO and Russia to make a new beginning and to enjoy a far more productive relationship in the future, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a speech in Brussels.
We should explore the potential for linking the U.S., NATO and Russian missile defense systems at an appropriate time.
He gave few details of how the proposals would work but they were welcomed by Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Moscow had fiercely opposed the U.S. plans.
POSITIVE AND CONTRUCTIVE
It was very positive, very constructive and we have to analyze together all the sec-gen's proposals for the new beginning of NATO-Russia cooperation, Rogozin told a news conference.
He indicated Russia would not go ahead with plans to deploy medium-range missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, if the United States abandoned its plans to place ground-based interceptors in Poland and use a radar site in the Czech Republic.
I hope you can understand (the) logic ... if we have no radars or no missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, we don't need to find some response, he said.
NATO's ties with Russia have improved since the Cold War ended but deteriorated again following the defense alliance's eastward expansion to take in former Communist-ruled countries in eastern Europe and Moscow's war in Georgia last year.
Washington had proposed the shield because of concerns Iran was trying to develop nuclear warheads -- something Iran denies -- and could mount them on long-range missiles.
But Russia saw it as a threat to its own missile defenses and overall security.
Under a new plan, Washington would initially deploy ships with missile interceptors and in a second phase would field land-based defense systems. Rasmussen said no NATO ally would be weakened by the decision.
Putin, speaking to investors in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, said Obama's decision to scrap the missile plans was positive.
I expect that after this correct and brave decision, others will follow, including the complete removal of all restrictions on the transfer of high technology to Russia and (U.S.) activity to widen the membership of the World Trade Organisation to (include) Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, Putin said.
Critics accused the White House of dangerous weakness.
Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate who lost to Obama in 2008, called the move seriously misguided and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, a leading Bush-era hawk, was scathing.
(Writing by Timothy Heritage)