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Friday, June 29, 2007

NATO Chief Fires Back at Putin

The Moscow Times reports that NATO's chief has blasted the Kremlin with a direct threat. Beautiful stuff. Watch out, Russia, you started it, we'll finish it.

NATO's secretary-general likened diplomacy to listening to an iPod on Tuesday, issuing a thinly veiled warning to Moscow to tone down its rhetoric in an increasingly heated exchange over U.S. missile defense plans. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's comments followed a closed-door Kremlin meeting with President Vladimir Putin, who will meet with President George W. Bush in the United States this weekend. De Hoop Scheffer suggested that Putin's threat earlier this month to retarget Russian missiles at Europe was as damaging to a person's ears as listening to an mp3 player too loud. "In this already fairly complicated discussion, it is advisable to lower the volume a bit," de Hoop Scheffer said at a news conference. "Because as it is with your iPod, if you put the volume too high, it will in the long run damage your ears." He added: "If you do that in international diplomacy, you might in another sense damage your ears."

Noting that the NATO-Russia relationship was a partnership, de Hoop Scheffer said, "These remarks about targeting missiles ... do not fit, and they do not have a place in these discussions." He said that his meeting with Putin had been "very constructive, open and frank" and that it was up to the Kremlin to reveal further details.

A Kremlin spokesman declined comment about the meeting. [LR: We'll just bet they did. Hard to comment when your jaw is hanging down to the floor!]

Putin had threatened to point missiles at Europe if Washington followed through on plans to place elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. He later said he would back down on the threat if Washington agreed to an alternate site, an early warning radar that Russia rents in Azerbaijan. De Hoop Scheffer said the missile defense dispute would be high on the agenda when Putin meets Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sunday and Monday. He repeated the U.S. contention that the proposed missile defense shield posed no danger to Russia. Apart from the shield, de Hoop Scheffer identified Kosovo and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe as the main divisive issues.

On Kosovo, he reiterated an earlier request that Russia approve a United Nations Security Council resolution on the future status of the southern Serbian province as soon as possible. He said the issue was in the Security Council's hands, not NATO's. "And there President Putin has more to say than the NATO secretary-general," de Hoop Scheffer quipped. Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, opposes a plan by United Nations special envoy Martti Ahtisaari that would grant Kosovo internationally supervised independence. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov predicted during a debate with de Hoop Scheffer on Monday in St. Petersburg that Russia would veto the resolution.

De Hoop Scheffer on Tuesday also stressed ongoing cooperation between Russia and NATO. As examples, he noted Russia's participation in a successful anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean Sea as well as cooperation in anti-drug drives in Afghanistan. "The key words in the NATO-Russia relationship are investment and engagement," he said. Russia is to provide support for NATO's Operation Active Endeavor, where ships patrol the Mediterranean to detect terrorist activity. "Russia needs NATO, and NATO needs Russia, so there is no alternative in this relationship but to engage," said de Hoop Scheffer, adding that as in any serious relationship it should come as no surprise that both sides did not agree on everything. De Hoop Scheffer, a former Dutch foreign minister, compared the disagreements to a marriage and noted that his wife was in the audience. "I am not talking about my own marriage, certainly not in the presence of my wife, but it happens in the best of marriages," he said.

He said Jeannine de Hoop Scheffer-van Oorschot, a French teacher, had visited Moscow State Linguistic University earlier in the day. Speaking earlier during a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged that Russia and the alliance were split on many issues. "The positions of Russia and the countries of NATO are still not very close, Lavrov said. De Hoop Scheffer's visit coincides with the fifth anniversary of the NATO-Russia Council, established in May 2002, and 10 years after the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, signed in May 1997.

Both sides on Tuesday opened an official NATO-Russia Council web site at www.nato-russia-council.info.

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