WASHINGTON – Senior U.S. officials on Wednesday said a Russian-sponsored conference on missile defense presents an opportunity for diplomatic movement on the contentious issue, while reaffirming that they do not expect major breakthroughs before this year’s presidential election (see GSN, April 4).
Ellen Tauscher, special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, and Madelyn Creedon, assistant Defense secretary for global strategic affairs, spoke to reporters via conference call from Moscow on the eve of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Conference on Missile Defense, which began on Thursday.
The officials said they hoped progress could be made at the two-day event, but reaffirmed prior Obama administration statements that Russia would not be allowed to constrain development of the European missile shield.
The U.S. “phased adaptive approach” calls for deployment though 2020 of increasingly advanced land- and sea-based ballistic missile defense systems around Europe. The defenses would form the core of a broader NATO antimissile shield; the military alliance is expected to declare the system’s initial capability at its summit this month in Chicago.
Moscow maintains the NATO effort could undermine its nuclear deterrent, while Brussels and Washington say the technology is intended to guard against potentially emerging threats in the Middle East.
“Our view and analysis is that the United States’ missile defenses don’t undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent,” Tauscher said. The conference is another opportunity for the administration to lay out technical details of the planned system, she added.
Russia invited delegates from about 50 nations to the two-day conference in Moscow. Tauscher and Creedon are among eight U.S. officials participating in the event, in which Russia is pitching that NATO and Moscow establish a single, jointly operated missile defense framework that has already met Western objections. The conference began on Thursday with Russian officials warning they were prepared to use pre-emptive military force to destroy NATO missile systems if the West does not alter its plans (see related GSN story, today).
The Obama administration has been under fire recently from Republican critics who claimed the president’s suggestion in March to outgoing Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” in missile defense talks after the November elections indicated Obama was willing to forgo American security interests.
During Wednesday’s call, Tauscher reiterated previous Obama administration statements that Washington “will not accept any limitations” that Russia seeks to put on its planned missile defense system. The administration at this point is only willing to make a “political statement” that the planned missile defense system is “not targeted against Russia,” Tauscher said. Moscow has demanded a more concrete, legally binding pledge.
Tauscher said U.S. officials hope to continue to discuss technical issues associated with the European missile defense plans with Russia and other involved countries over the next “nine to 10 months.” However, “the 2012 election year clearly is not a year in which we are going to achieve a breakthrough,” Tauscher said.
The missile defense issue could be a “game changer” for the relationship between Russia, the United States and its NATO allies, according to Tauscher. She said that is not meant as a threat that relations could deteriorate if Russia does not back off from its demands, but rather to suggest that collaboration on missile defense would be a significant step forward from the Cold War-era of “mutually assured destruction” and toward “mutually assured security.”
Senior U.S. officials on Wednesday said a Russian-sponsored conference on missile defense presents an opportunity for diplomatic movement on the contentious issue, while reaffirming that they do not expect major breakthroughs before this year’s presidential election.