Mar 5, 2009

Russia tops Clinton's agenda in Europe


Today @ 09:42 CET

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton emphasized the importance of putting relations with Russia back on track, while reassuring Eastern Europeans of their security guarantees, at in informal dinner on Wednesday evening.

"We want to have a more robust and meaningful dialogue with Russia going forward on a range of issues," Ms Clinton told reporters travelling with her to Brussels.

US wants a more "robust" relationship with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (Photo:

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Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb, who also participated at the transatlantic dinner with Ms Clinton, urged the US and the EU to cooperate on developing relations with Russia, reports.

According to Mr Stubb, who last year chaired the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which includes Russia, there is a change underway in Russia that could open new opportunities for deeper cooperation. He said that Russia has recently given clear signals that it is ready for discussions in all arenas.

Meanwhile, Nato foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on Thursday are set to green-light the resumption of high-level meetings with Russia, suspended after Moscow's military incursion to Georgia in August last year.

"I hope for a positive outcome and a reengagement with Russia," Nato secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters early Thursday.

Security guarantees for Eastern Europe

Following revelations that the US administration is prepared to reconsider its planned missile defence shield in Europe if Russia engages in serious diplomacy towards Iran, Ms Clinton explained that the shield project is not off the table, but that Russia needs to be involved.

"Just as we had to build a mutual defence with Europe in the 20th century, we have to build it in the 21st century. It is my hope that we will persuade Russia to be part of that defence," she said.

Ms Clinton reiterated the US view that a missile shield was not aimed at Russia but at deterring Iran and that the two powers should work together.

"Iran poses a threat to Europe and Russia we think this is a very rich area for exploration and this is what we are going to do," she said.

The previous US administration last year signed formal agreements with the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic on installing elements of the missile defence shield, a move which prompted Moscow to use Cold-War rhetoric and threats.

Ms Clinton hailed the "courage and leadership" of both the Czech Republic and Poland in agreeing to have a missile defence system deployed on their soil.

"They recognize that there is a real potential future threat. They did not hide their heads in the sand. They said you know what, we see it as you see it."

As for Nato guarantees, especially to the Baltic states who feel threatened after the Russian incursion into Georgia last August, the alliance is preparing a renewed commitment on security of its members. This will be part of the declaration to be issued at a summit in April.

Mar 3, 2009

Europeans start race for NATO leadership


04.03.2009 @ 17:41 CET

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – After waiting for the Obama administration to take office, European states have started floating names for the next NATO secretary general to replace Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, whose mandate ends on 31 July.

Although there is less than a month to go until the 60th anniversary NATO summit in Strasbourg/Kehl, member states are still in the early stage regarding the nomination of the next NATO chief, Herman Schaper, the Dutch ambassador to the alliance, told EUobserver.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's (r) mandate is associated with George W. Bush's (l) presidency (Photo: NATO)

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"We waited for the Obama administration and only started two to three weeks ago to invite countries to present their candidate. At this moment there is no official candidate," Mr Schaper explained.

Asked about the chances for an Eastern European secretary general, Mr Schaper said that there were already two names floated from Poland and Bulgaria – foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski and former top diplomat Solomon Passy, respectively.

"Nobody says that because they are from a new member state they should wait. The criteria for the job is to be experienced and a figure who can bring countries together, not someone who picks fights," Mr Schaper added, alluding to the provocative statements in the past of the Polish foreign minister, especially in regards to Russia.

An agent provocateur would pose a problem not only to Russia-friendly Western European countries such as Germany and France, but also to the new Obama administration's strive to avoid a Cold War-style confrontation with the Kremlin.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Mr Sikorski is about to submit his candidature for the secretary general job. Confidential instructions about "probing the intentions" as to the election of a new NATO secretary general were received by Polish ambassadors in the 27 NATO member states, the Polish newspaper reports.

Madame NATO?

The Dutch ambassador hinted at the existence of another new proposal, nicknamed "madame NATO" - French interior minister Michele Alliot Marie, who in the past held the position of defence minister.

"Does he or she speak French – that's important, as we have two languages at NATO. And most of all, whether you're seen by member states as a person they can trust and work with," Mr Schaper said.

But with France about to rejoin NATO's military command and to get two command-level posts, it is unlikely that Paris will also get the top job of the alliance.

The potential candidate broadly seen as having no problems is Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He is the most high-ranking and would easily get the support from both sides of the Atlantic.

The only downside is his image problem in the Arab world, due to the Mohammed-cartoons scandal in 2006. This could develop into a serious handicap, for instance in NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store is also in the running, after having recently given an "outstanding briefing" on the Nordic security dimension to NATO ambassadors, alliance sources told this website.