A Republican lawmaker is holding up confirmation of the White House's planned new envoy to Russia due to concerns the Obama administration could supply the Kremlin with key data on U.S. antimissile systems, the Associated Press reported on Friday (see GSN, Nov. 17).
Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) wants the administration to pledge it will not give Moscow classified information on intercept technology. The White House maintains it does not intend to do so but the kind of pledge Kirk is demanding would preclude the United States from engaging in any significant antimissile collaboration with Russia.
The Illinois Republican has asked the Obama nominee for U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, to clarify if the administration had plans to supply Moscow with the technical specifics of the U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptor's burnout velocity, according to previous reports. Such classified data could be used by Moscow to determine the interceptor's speed limitations.
Some Obama officials reportedly believe that delivering the SM-3 burnout velocity data would finally assuage Russia's fears that the interceptor is a threat to its long-range nuclear forces. Those fears lie at the heart of a disagreement between the two former Cold War enemies over U.S. plans to deploy SM-3 units around Europe as a stated hedge against a possible ballistic missile strike from Iran.
The senator said he is worried about Moscow's "record of espionage and cooperation and dialogue with Iran." Specific technical details on interceptor velocity could aid Iran in thwarting U.S. missile intercept attempts, he said.
The White House said that while it is not weighing giving the burnout velocity data to Russia, it cannot take off the table all potential antimissile data exchanges that might be needed if there is to any significant missile defense collaboration between the two powers.
"In the future, some classified information exchange may benefit the United States," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in provided comments.
Kirk's hold has left the United States without an ambassador in Moscow at a time when Russian lawmakers are warning that the high-profile profile strategic "reset" could be in jeopardy due to the missile defense impasse (see GSN, Nov. 29). The senator's actions have political implications ahead of the 2012 presidential elections as the reset is held up by the Obama administration as one of its biggest foreign policy wins.
Washington and Moscow for a year have been engaged, with little success, in discussions on areas for potential antimissile cooperation. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned recently that if an agreement on missile defense is not reached, his government could withdraw from the New START nuclear arms control accord and deploy short-range Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave, which borders several NATO states (Associated Press/Washington Post, Dec. 2).