Russia on Thursday wasted no time in calling on newly re-elected U.S. President Obama to remember his statement earlier this year that he would be able to show "more flexibility" on missile defense if returned to the White House, the Associated Press reported.
Moscow and Washington have been at an impasse for years over the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for deploying missile defenses in Europe. Russia is worried that increasingly capable missile interceptors to be fielded around the continent in coming years could threaten its long-range nuclear weapons; it has refused to accept verbal assurances the weapons would be aimed at thwarting a potential ballistic missile attack from Iran.
Obama in late March was overhead telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that his successor, Vladimir Putin, needed to give him "space" on the matter until after the November elections. The Kremlin has threatened to deploy military measures aimed at undermining U.S. antimissile systems in Europe if it is not provided legally binding assurances on U.S. interceptor usage.
"We hope that President Obama after his re-election will be more flexible on the issue of taking into the account the opinions of Russia and others regarding a future configuration of NATO's missile defense," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said in Moscow.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Thursday said his government would continue to demand binding promises from the United States on missile defense.
"The missile defense systems that are now being deployed in Europe pose a threat to Russia in many ways," ITAR-Tass quoted Rogozin as saying at a forum on nuclear weapons. "Americans say these systems are designed against middle- and short-range missiles but they are capable to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles as well."
Rogozin was referring to the next-generation Standard Missile 3 Block 2B interceptor the United States hopes to have ready for fielding around 2020. Other SM-3 variants planned for deployment before then would have more limited interception capabilities.
"The American missile defense might not be aimed against us but it is sure not for us," said the outspoken Rogozin.
"We don't believe in words. We are bad guys," he said. "We don't need guarantees on paper, we need real guarantees."
U.S Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul in a Wednesday interview with Interfax sought to explain why the Obama administration was unable to provide Moscow with a legally enforceable promise on missile interception activities.
"We don't know how the [ballistic missile] threat in Iran will develop. That has nothing to do with Russia.," McFaul said. "We can't constrain our military forces against a threat because the threat is variable, it is not a constant."
The ambassador said rather than reaching a legal agreement on the dispute, the two sides could focus on building "transparency, cooperation, trust that can be done without signing treaties. In the business world this happens all the time. If it's good for you, it's good for me."
"I think as more people understand our system and what it's designed to do and what it's not, this issue will diminish," McFaul speculated.
The diplomat voiced hope that Moscow and Washington would be able to move beyond their missile defense disagreement -- an issue that has threatened the two nuclear powers' highly touted 2009 "reset" in relations.
"I am very optimistic that we will be able to eliminate this issue as a sticking point," McFaul told Interfax.
Now that Obama has been re-elected, McFaul said he expected "we will fully engage with Russia. Whether we can reach cooperation with Russia that is a high, high aspiration."