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Putin Demands Enforceable Guarantee on NATO Missile Shield

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday demanded an enforceable pledge that a ballistic missile defense system being constructed in Europe by NATO and the United States would not be aimed at his nation's nuclear weapons, Interfax reported (see GSN, May 18).

Washington and Brussels have to date insisted on offering Moscow only political promises that planned ballistic missile interceptors will not be intended for use against Russian strategic nuclear forces. The allies' plans involve the gradual linking-up and enhancement of individual member nations' antimissile capabilities. A U.S. program to through 2020 field increasingly capable interceptors around Europe is to form the backbone of the NATO missile shield.

The alliance last month announced it had achieved an interim capacity to protect Europe against ballistic missile strikes from the Middle East (see GSN, May 21).

The Kremlin has warned it will pursue a military response, possibly including fielding short-range ballistic missiles in territory bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania, if it does not receive a firm guarantee on the interceptors' usage.

"Mere declarations like ... 'Don't worry, we promise you that nothing will happen' -- this is absolutely not enough in the modern world and sounds childish," Putin said during a joint press briefing in Paris with French President Francois Hollande. "We need guarantees."

The Russian president said France was among a small number of nations "not only listening to but also hearing" Russia's grievances on the Western military alliance's antimissile plans. 

He continued that Moscow has already received several verbal promises on the antimissile system. "We would like these (assurances) to be not just declarations, but we want to have military-technological guarantees stipulated by legally binding documents. Only then can we feel secure and maintain a good partner-like dialogue" (Interfax, June 2).

No statement on antimissile issues is being readied ahead of this month's summit between Putin and U.S. President Obama, ITAR-Tass reported.

"No document on missile defense is being prepared. We are engaged in dialogue on missile defense, but it has so far been futile because of the American partners’ categorical refusal to take into account our concerns," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Russian broadcast program "News on Saturday."

The two heads of slate are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the June 18-19 Group of 20 summit in Mexico.

"It is clear that we have no accord, but we have agreed that experts will continue the work, and we will insist that our stand be taken into consideration in full measure," Lavrov said.

"We have explained to the American colleagues what risks we see in their four-stage 'adaptive plan' and hope that the professional contacts will allow us to find possibilities to agree in such a way that this (missile defense) system does not create threats for Russia and risks for strategic stability on the global scale," the minister said.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Frank Rose responded that Washington was prepared to make a political pledge that the NATO missile shield would not be aimed at Russian missiles. However, he reaffirmed the U.S. stance that it would not agree to any legally enforceable commitments (ITAR-Tass, June 2).

The Obama administration's special envoy on missile defense, Ellen Tauscher, told attendees of an antimissile forum in London on Thursday that the United States would proceed with its European missile shield plans regardless of Russia's continued opposition, The Hill reported.

"Let me be clear. While we can work cooperatively together, we cannot agree to the preconditions outlined by the Russian government," Tauscher said.  "We will not agree to limitations on the capabilities and numbers of our missile defense systems. We cannot agree to any 'military-technical criteria,' that would, in effect, limit our ability to develop and deploy future missile defense systems that will protect us against regional threats such as Iran and North Korea" (Julian Pecquet, The Hill, May 31).

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