Russia Says U.S. Pledged Intent to Reach Antimissile Compromise

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he received confirmation during Tuesday talks with his U.S. counterpart, Hillary Clinton, that the Obama administration hopes to work toward a deal on European missile defense, ITAR-Tass reported.

The two foreign policy leaders during their meeting in Cambodia touched on the long-running impasse over U.S. plans to deploy antimissile systems in Europe. Russia fears the increasingly capable missile interceptors the Obama administration intends to deploy in coming years will undermine strategic nuclear stability between the former Cold War antagonists.

"We still have discrepancies on such global problems as missile defense. But in this issue we continue to search for agreements that will to the full extent ensure the interests of Russia's security," Lavrov said.

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to hold a summit at a yet-unannounced date.

Lavrov said Clinton confirmed to him "that Obama remembers of his official invitation to arrive in Russia on an official visit and hopes that this visit will take place next year. We will be able to coordinate the dates in the near future," ITAR-Tass also reported.

Moscow is demanding a legally enforceable agreement that U.S. interceptors in Europe will not be aimed at its long-range nuclear missiles; it has tied future bilateral arms control treaties to receiving that assurance. The Obama administration insists that joint U.S.-NATO antimissile activities are focused on protecting the continent against a possible ballistic missile attack from Iran and that its interceptors do not have the capability to threaten Russia's sophisticated ICBMs.

Following the success of negotiating the New START accord, the Obama White House has made known its desire to achieve a second nuclear arms control treaty with Russia. Obama last year was also overheard telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev he would "more flexibility" to negotiate on missile defense after the presidential election.

"For the last 18 months the Russians have been pretty much in a holding pattern on arms control and missile defense because they didn't want to go too far down the road with the Obama administration and then find that they were dealing with a Republican in 2013," Brookings Institution Arms Control Initiative Director Steven Pifer said in a recent interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Now that the Kremlin knows Obama will have another four years in office, "the question is: Are they prepared to re-engage in a more positive way" on nuclear arms control and antimissile issues, the one-time U.S ambassador said.

Moscow is fully aware, according to Pifer, that Obama could not hope to pass through Congress an accord that provides a binding pledge to Russia on U.S. antimissile activities. "There is no way that the treaty would be ratified by the Senate. ... And people understand that in Moscow."

He added: "If they move off that demand" for a binding deal, "then you can see a lot of pieces that are out there ... that would provide the basis for a solution."

Washington has already offered to give Moscow a political assurance on missile defense and suggested joint establishment of two centers where the sides would share technical information gathered from radars and coordinate on rules of engagement for antimissile operations, according to Pifer.

Brussels, Moscow and Washington have failed to produce notable progress from their 2010 pledge to pursue options for missile defense collaboration. Russia wants a unified system for Europe, while NATO and the United States prefer two distinct but cooperative operations.

November 20, 2012
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he received confirmation during Tuesday talks with his U.S. counterpart, Hillary Clinton, that the Obama administration hopes to work toward a deal on European missile defense, ITAR-Tass reported.