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House Speaker Questions Obama Over Antimissile Negotiations Comments

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), shown on Thursday, on Wednesday joined other GOP lawmakers in voicing concern over President Obama's recent allusion to his post-election "flexibility" in missile defense talks with Russia (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite). U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), shown on Thursday, on Wednesday joined other GOP lawmakers in voicing concern over President Obama's recent allusion to his post-election "flexibility" in missile defense talks with Russia (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite).

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday joined in the Republican criticism of President Obama's recent "flexibility" remark regarding missile defense negotiations with Russia, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, March 28).

The senior lawmaker in a letter to the White House said he was disturbed by off-the-cuff comments made by Obama to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Seoul this week that indicated his administration would have more space to address Moscow's concerns about U.S. missile defense in Europe after U.S. congressional and presidential elections in November.

"I and other members of the House have previously expressed concern about your administration's apparent willingness to make unilateral concessions to Russia that undermine our missile defense capabilities," Boehner stated. "Your comments reinforce those words."

On Tuesday, 43 senators sent a letter to the White House expressing similarly high discontent with the Obama-Medvedev exchange, which unknowingly by the men was picked up by a live microphone in the room (see GSN, March 28).

Boehner pointed out that Moscow has taken positions on Iran, North Korea and Syria that run against U.S. interests and asked why Washington should do anything to positively reinforce Russia's "reckless ambition."

"That has significant implications for the security of our homeland, sends a terrible signal to our allies around the world and calls into question the effectiveness of your 'reset' policy with the Russian government," the House leader said.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) told journalists that "on the specific question of our missile defense in Europe, the president really ought to reassure all of us that he's going to stick with the program that we're on now because that program is, in my opinion, is critically important to the security of the American people for years and years to come" (Donna Cassata, Associated Press/Google News, March 28).

The administration's plan for European missile defense calls for deploying through 2020 increasingly advanced Standard Missile 3 interceptors at bases in Romania and Poland and on missile destroyers home ported in Spain. That "phased adaptive approach" would form the core of a broader NATO initiative to establish a continental ballistic missile shield by linking up and enhancing individual member nations' antimissile programs.

Moscow and the Western military bloc have for more than a year discussed collaborating in developing the European shield. They have been unable to reach a deal, largely due to Russia's continued insistence it be provided with a binding guarantee that U.S. missile interceptors would never threaten its strategic nuclear forces. The Kremlin has threatened a military response that would nullify any strategic advantages offered by the NATO missile shield if a compromise is not reached.

Acting Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller in a recent interview with the Kommersant newspaper said the White House is ready "to cooperate with Russia on missile defense, and we intend to continue negotiations with Moscow on this subject both in diplomatic channels and at the military-to-military level," according to a State Department release.

"Our goal is to bring together the capabilities of the U.S., Europe, NATO, and Russia to jointly address common missile threats. So we’re working with Russia bilaterally and also through NATO channels to find forms of cooperation that will benefit the U.S. and Russia and our European partners," the undersecretary said.

The Obama administration "is committed to finding a mutually acceptable approach on missile defense cooperation with Russia," she added.

"We don’t intend to conceal anything about our plans and intentions," Gottemoeller said while reiterating that Washington and Brussels would not constrain their antimissile efforts with a "legally binding framework."

She did however, leave on the table the option of a written promise that the allied missile shield would not be aimed at long-range Russian nuclear weapons.  "We are prepared to put that in writing. We are definitely prepared to do that."

Gottemoeller predicted it would require "a lot of time and effort" to reach a compromise on the issue (U.S. State Department release, March 28).

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry's head of foreign military collaboration efforts, Sergei Koshelev, said it was highly unlikely the United States would provide his government with secret technical information on U.S. antimissile technology, ITAR-Tass reported.

“While ratifying last year the New START treaty, the American Senate put down in the ratification resolution that the U.S. administration has no right to disclose to Russia any sensitive missile defense information," Koshelev said (ITAR-Tass, March 28).

An amendment to the fiscal 2012 Defense Authorization Act also forbids the executive branch from exchanging classified antimissile data with Russia. However, Obama in a presidential signing statement stated that the stricture is not binding.

U.S. special envoy for missile defense and strategic stability, Ellen Tauscher, earlier this week said the administration was not planning on sharing sensitive antimissile data with Russia, apparently walking back a Pentagon statement made earlier this month that it was considering doing just that (see GSN, March 27).

Some Obama officials think the Kremlin's concerns about SM-3 interceptors would be assuaged if it were provided with the velocity at burnout of the weapons, which could show they are no match for Russian ICBMs (see GSN, March 14).

In commenting on the controversial Obama-Medvedev exchange, Koshelev said, "There was a very interesting phrase spoken there and I discussed it with Americans [on Tuesday]: the presidents instructed experts to continue consultations on missile defense," Interfax reported (Interfax, March 28).

Separately, the Mitt Romney presidential campaign defended the candidate after his judgment was questioned by President Medvedev on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

Medvedev was responding to a comment by the Republican presidential front-runner that Russia was the United States'  top "geopolitical foe." The Russian leader said such thinking was outdated and "smacked of Hollywood."

"President Medvedev's comments about [former] Governor Romney make it evident that the Kremlin would prefer to continue doing business with the current incumbent of the White House," Romney campaign policy director Lanhee Chen said on Tuesday.

"In contrast to President Obama, Governor Romney is clear-eyed about the geopolitical challenge Russia poses."

"Russia's nuclear arsenal, its energy resources, its geopolitical position astride Europe and Asia, the veto it wields on the U.N. Security Council and the creeping authoritarianism of its government make Russia a unique geopolitical problem," Chen said (Agence France-Presse/AsiaOne, March 28).

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