Obama Says Political Climate Stymies Prospects For Antimissile Deal

President Obama on Tuesday addressed remarks made to his Russian counterpart on the increased likelihood of a missile defense compromise after November elections by saying the current U.S. political climate is "not conducive" to well-thought out deliberations on the matter, the New York Times reported (see GSN, March 26).

The two nations have sought unsuccessfully for more than a year to reach an agreement that would open the door for potential Russian participation in a developing NATO missile shield in Europe.

Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea (see related GSN story, today). A microphone picked up Obama saying during the session that he would need "space" from Medvedev's successor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and that he would have "more flexibility" on the issue after presidential and congressional elections in November.

"The only way I get this stuff done is if I'm consulting with the Pentagon, if I'm consulting with Congress, if I've got bipartisan support," Obama said to journalists. "Frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful considerations."

“You can’t start that a few months before presidential and congressional elections in the United States, and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia, and they’re in the process of a presidential transition,” Obama said in a joint media appearance with Medvedev.

Obama tied the issue of a missile shield in Europe with his ambition of drastically cutting the U.S. nuclear stockpile. For more nuclear arms cuts to be enacted, Washington must foster greater confidence with Moscow on missile defense, he said.

"This is not a matter of hiding the ball. I want to see us gradually, systematically reduce reliance on nuclear weapons," the U.S. leader said (see GSN, March 26).

Administration officials have acknowledged they are considering providing some sensitive antimissile technology data to Moscow as a means of assuaging concerns that interceptors to be deployed around Europe would be aimed at Russian strategic nuclear forces. Washington says the NATO shield is intended to counter ballistic missile threats from the Middle East, but it has rejected the Kremlin's demand for a binding pledge that Russia is not the actual target.

Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said Obama's remarks were an "alarming and troubling development" (Mark Landler, New York Times, March 27).

"This is no time for our president to be pulling his punches with the American people, and not telling us what he's intending to do with regards to our missile defense system," the one-time Massachusetts governor said. He called for Obama to "level with the American public about his real agenda," according to the Associated Press.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told CNN said he would like to know "how many other countries has the president promised that he'd have a lot more flexibility the morning he doesn't have to answer to the American people?" (Ben Feller, Associated Press/Google News, March 27).

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday said the alliance still plans to declare a preliminary antimissile capability at a summit this May in Chicago, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Feb. 3).

The initial capability would involve U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptors fielded on a warship in the Mediterranean and a long-range radar unit in Turkey's Kurecik province, according to previous reports.

Over time, Brussels intends to build up its antimissile architecture by augmenting and connecting individual alliance member's missile defense programs. The Obama administration initiative to field increasingly sophisticated SM-3 interceptors around Europe over the next eight years forms the core of NATO's plans.

"I can confirm that it is our intention to declare what we call an interim capability of the NATO system. That is part of the first phase of the development of the NATO missile defense system," Rasmussen said in a video interview with Moscow journalists.

Earlier hopes that an antimissile cooperation agreement with Russia could be announced in Chicago have dimmed. Moscow has said there remains time to strike a deal but has warned it would carry out a new arms buildup aimed at defeating the planned U.S.-NATO system if no compromise is reached.

Russia has indicated Putin would be unlikely to attend any summit in Chicago if there is no compromise on missile defense. The NATO chief reaffirmed his intention to sit down with Putin after he reassumes the presidency in early May. 

"The relationship between NATO and Russia is not dependent on a single meeting in Chicago or elsewhere," Rasmussen said.

He also rejected the value of new Russian nuclear weapons and missile efforts under Putin's planned $793 armed forces funding program for the rest of this decade. "I can honestly say ... that would be a complete waste of money," Rasmussen said (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, March 26).

March 27, 2012
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President Obama on Tuesday addressed remarks made to his Russian counterpart on the increased likelihood of a missile defense compromise after November elections by saying the current U.S. political climate is "not conducive" to well-thought out deliberations on the matter, the New York Times reported.