U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Saturday held talks that touched on missile defense, ITAR-Tass reported (see GSN, Nov. 17).
"As for the missile defense, we will continue discussions with a view of finding mutually acceptable solutions," Lavrov said on Friday of the impending meeting, which took place on the margins of a regional summit in Indonesia.
The United States and Russia have been engaged in antimissile discussions for roughly a year, though with scant results. Moscow fears that a U.S. plan to field increasingly advanced sea- and land-based missile interceptors around Europe over the next decade could undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent. Washington maintains that the antimissile systems are focused on thwarting any ballistic missile attack from the Middle East (ITAR-Tass I, Nov. 19).
"On the initiative of Clinton we’ve touched on missile defense issues in what our presidents talked about in Honolulu," Lavrov said in reference to a meeting last week that saw U.S. President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agree to maintain bilateral talks on antimissile issues despite a lack of progress. "We note that our positions remain unchanged. We say it is necessary to continue the talks," ITAR-Tass reported.
"We do not see any progress in the U.S. position," the Russian foreign policy chief continued. "It refuses to sign a document on clear guarantees that missile [shield] is not targeted against Russia and against its strategic nuclear potential and refuses to work out corresponding military-technical and other criteria, which will ensure these guarantees" (ITAR-Tass II, Nov. 19).
Moscow is demanding a legally enforceable pledge from Washington that its missile interceptors in Europe will not be aimed against Russian long-range nuclear missiles. The Obama administration has refused this demand.
The Kremlin has warned it would pursue a military response if it an agreement with Washington and NATO is not reached on European missile defense. That response could include an enlargement of Russia's nuclear forces, Moscow has previously said.
On Monday, Medvedev said any response would be sensible and adequate while also allowing the chance for future antimissile talks, ITAR-Tass reported.
"We will have to take some concrete decisions and I will voice them in the near future," the president said in remarks to Russian military officers. "You cannot doubt that our actions will be reasonable, sufficient and will not block the path to continue the negotiations on the situation over the European missile shield with our NATO partners" (ITAR-Tass III, Nov. 21).
Meanwhile, Russian defense, foreign affairs and economic experts extended an invitation to the United States for informal discussions on missile defense and other matters, ITAR-Tass reported.
"It's no secret that at the official level the dialogue between the U.S. and Russia on the deployment in Europe of the U.S. missile defense system is at a standstill," said retired Col. Gen. Victor Yesin, former chief of staff of the nation's Strategic Missile Forces. "We have proposed creating a joint group of nongovernmental experts, which would be searching for ways out of this problem" (ITAR-Tass IV, Nov. 19).
Simultaneously, an expected failure by empowered congressional lawmakers to reach a deal that would trim $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over the next decade means that enormous automatic cuts to U.S. military spending are likely and could affect missile defense plans for Europe, the Associated Press reported.
As Washington already grouses about NATO allies not meeting their requirements for military spending, U.S. contributions to European missile defense could be a ripe target for cutting. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a warning on the matter last week (see GSN, Nov. 15).
"A missile defense system for NATO? It's going to be hard to keep people committed if they think the U.S. is picking up the tab for Europe," former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker said (Desmond Butler, Associated Press/Boston Globe, Nov. 19).