NATO leaders agreed Thursday to endorse a U.S. missile defense system based in Europe and to provide more troops for Afghanistan, but they refused to back President Bush’s proposal to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO membership.
Washington’s failure to win over Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and other crucial European countries to its view on Ukraine and Georgia was considered by some countries of Central and Eastern Europe to have sent a message of alliance weakness to Moscow, a day before the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, makes his first visit to a NATO summit.
But Bush could claim success in persuading NATO to endorse his missile-defense plan in the face of Russian objections, and on Thursday signed an agreement with the Czech Republic to build radar for the system.
“There has been, over 10 years, a real debate as to whether there is a ballistic missile threat,” said Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley. “And I think that debate ended today.” Bush also succeeded in getting NATO to agree to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan, a Washington priority.
Putin has objected strongly to building parts of the missile defense system in former Soviet bloc states, despite Washington’s assurances that the system is a response to threats from Iran, not from Russia. Putin, saying the system would fuel a new arms race, has even threatened to aim Russian missiles at the system, while also offering the use of a substitute system in Azerbaijan.
NATO’s final statement invited Russia to cooperate with the United States and Europe on developing defenses jointly.
Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee of the Russian parliament, said that missile defense would be high on the agenda for the meeting between Bush and Putin in Sochi, a Russian resort, scheduled after the NATO conference, which Putin is to attend Friday.
Kosachev said Russia doubted Washington’s motives. “We still do not have a proper explanation of this project,” he said. “It is not about the number of interceptors. It’s about undermining mutual confidence and trust.”
The main contributor to more troops in Afghanistan was France. President Nicolas Sarkozy said Paris would send another battalion — some 700 troops — to eastern Afghanistan.