Sarkozy Calls for U.S., Russian Missile Freeze

NICE, France — French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he won Russian backing on Friday for talks on security in Europe next year and urged a freeze in missile deployments by Moscow and the United States until then.

His call was immediately questioned by the Czech Republic and Poland, which are due to host elements of a U.S. missile shield in Central Europe that has angered Moscow. They said he had no mandate to make such remarks.

Speaking after an EU-Russia summit, Sarkozy said he voiced concerns about President Dmitry Medvedev's threat to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad near Poland in response to U.S. plans for the missile-defense shield in Central Europe.

"I indicated to President Medvedev how concerned we were about this declaration and how there should be no deployment in any enclave until we have discussed new geopolitical conditions for pan-European security," Sarkozy said at a news conference.

"As president of the European Union, I proposed that in mid-2009 we meet … to lay down the foundation for what could be the future of European security," he said. France holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of this year.

Sarkozy said such a summit, possibly under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the United States and Russia, would not be conclusive but could lay the foundations for a future European security pact.

"Between now and then, don't talk about deployment of a missile shield, which does nothing to bring security and complicates things," he said, referring to the U.S. plans.

In the latest display of the difficulties the EU has in speaking with one voice to Russia, Prague promptly distanced itself from the remarks.

"France had not consulted such a standpoint with us in advance," Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra said in a statement.

"As far as the French presidency's mandate for the EU-Russia summit is concerned, it contains no mention of the anti-missile shield," he added.

Czech Republic is due to take over the rotating presidency of the 27-member bloc from France in January for six months.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Saturday that it was not Sarkozy's place to take a stand on missile defense.

"The president of France Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his view, but it will have no influence on what will happen with the project," he told reporters in Warsaw, the Polish news agency PAP reported.

"On the issue of the shield, I don't expect either commentary or actions from third parties," Tusk said.

Later Saturday, Sarkozy backed down from his comments critical of the U.S. plans.

"Ultimately, it could be a complement against a missile threat coming from elsewhere, for example, Iran," Sarkozy said after a global financial summit of world leaders in Washington.

Medvedev said Friday that his remarks on deploying missiles in Kaliningrad were a reaction to the U.S. plans, which Moscow sees as a threat despite Washington's assurances that they are intended to protect the United States and its European allies from "rogue" states such as Iran.

"We should all refrain from unilateral steps which influence security until the new pact is signed," he told the news conference. "Russia has never made such steps unilaterally."

Medvedev said Russia envisaged a pan-European security treaty that could be joined by all nations and groupings, including NATO, and "a list of rules for the future."

Last month, Medvedev called on the EU to work with Russia on a new security pact, arguing that Washington had forfeited its place at the heart of the world order.

Sarkozy said then that he was prepared to discuss the proposals and suggested a summit on the issue at the end of 2009.

The Nice summit came after EU states agreed last Monday to restart talks on a broad partnership pact frozen after Russia's August invasion of Georgia. The two sides agreed to restart the talks on Dec. 2, an EU official said Friday.

Sarkozy said Russia had to a large extent complied with a French-brokered cease-fire in Georgia but still needed to withdraw its troops from the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Medvedev insisted that a cease-fire deal had been "fully fulfilled."

(Reuters, AP)