U.S. Will Not Curtail Missile Shield: Ambassador

The United States will not agree to any constraints surrounding the establishment of its antimissile infrastructure, the U.S. ambassador to Russia said on Monday (see GSN, March 30).

Ambassador Michael McFaul in an interview with RIA Novosti said the U.S. government would instead seek to address Moscow's belief that a missile shield planned for Europe would threaten Russian long-range nuclear weapons.

"We are going to accept no limitations on that whatsoever because the security of our people, of our allies, is the No. 1 top priority,”  McFaul said.

The envoy sought to minimize the implications of an overheard conversation last week in which President Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev he would have more "flexibility" to address the antimissile dispute after U.S. elections in November. McFaul said Obama's comments meant "we are going to build whatever missile defense system we need."

Republicans have criticized the flexibility remark, questioning whether it signals the White House is preparing to provide significant concessions as a means of resolving the dispute (RIA Novosti, April 4).

"The president's re-election prospects could suffer if concessions on these systems were to be openly discussed before the election," Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) wrote in a Wall Street Journal commentary. Kyl, one of 43 GOP senators who last week signed a letter to Obama seeking clarity on the comment to Medvedev, indicated the president might be looking to score another nuclear weapons deal with Russia at the expense of antimissile defenses for Europe, The Hill newspaper reported (see GSN, March 28; Jeremy Herb, The Hill, April 3).

Washington and Moscow for more than a year have engaged in talks on areas for potential antimissile cooperation but have thus far been unable to strike a deal. The Kremlin has warned it could pursue a new arms buildup aimed at subverting the envisioned U.S.-NATO missile shield if no compromise is reached on the matter.

Russian-U.S. collaboration "will be one of the most important issues for the second term of the Obama administration," McFaul said.

"The president believes that this is an issue where we can turn from confrontation to cooperation because we have no interest in building a missile defense system against Russia’s nuclear arsenal,” the ambassador continued (RIA Novosti, April 4).

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday was quick to rebuke McFaul's remarks, ITAR-Tass reported.

"The U.S. ambassador, when making a statement yesterday that there would be no changes in the U.S. missile defense issue, should have taken into consideration the interests of the country" where he is stationed, Lavrov said (ITAR-Tass, April 4).

McFaul "arrogantly" dismissed Moscow's worries on the matter, Reuters quoted Lavrov as saying (Steve Gutterman, Reuters/KGMI.com, April 4).

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov played down reports that the Obama administration is considering sharing sensitive technical data on U.S. missile defense technology in order to address Moscow's worries, RIA Novosti reported.

"The information regarding disclosure to Russia by the USA of secret information about missile defense components is not true. I would like to put an end to speculations that unfortunately take place in the USA regarding what is happening in our dialogue on ballistic missile defense," Ryabkov was quoted in a Foreign Ministry interview transcript to have said.

The Defense Department last month said it was seriously weighing whether to share classified information with the goal of proving to Moscow that U.S. missile interceptors intended for Europe would not have the ability to defeat Russian ICBMs (see GSN, March 14). State Department special envoy Ellen Tauscher, though, last week said the administration was not considering any data transfer (see GSN, March 27).

"No secret information regarding military characteristics of antiballistic missiles or other elements of the missile defense system has been disclosed by the U.S.," Ryabkov said (Russian Foreign Ministry release, April 3).

The forthcoming Vladimir Putin presidency would not alter Moscow's stance on NATO's missile shield plans, Ryabkov  said to Interfax.

Putin is slated to retake the presidency in early May after handily winning national elections last month.

Russia's position on NATO missile defense "has nothing to do with any personality factor because it's a matter of national security," the deputy foreign minister said.

NATO is pursuing a plan to augment and link up individual member nations' antimissile capabilities with the stated goal of protecting the continent from a ballistic missile attack from the Middle East. The Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense is to form the core of the NATO missile shield. The United States plans between now and 2020 to field increasingly sophisticated missile interceptors at bases in Poland and Romania and on missile destroyers home ported in Spain.

NATO has proposed establishing with Russia two antimissile systems that would share information on missile threats but operate independently. Moscow has rejected this idea.

"We told our [NATO] partners, this doesn't suit us because what you would be setting up might target us in a while and by that time you'd be getting all the information from our [missile] detectors," Ryabkov said.

"That is a one-way street case. It's wrong. A different kind of system is needed: if you want two separate systems to be set up and different potentials to exist, we should take another route as we fear you might set up a missile defense that targets us," he continued (Interfax I, April 3).

At this time, Moscow is refraining from following through on its threats to pursue a military response to the U.S.-NATO missile shield, Interfax quoted Ryabkov as saying.

"If you read the statement made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Nov. 23, there are no time limits" to its implementation, the diplomat pointed out (see GSN, Nov. 23, 2011).

"Aside from deploying early ballistic warning radars in the Kaliningrad region, no other 'visible' steps have been taken by April 2, 2012," he continued (Interfax II, April 3).

Foreign Minister Lavrov said the Kremlin is not presently weighing providing the United States with missile threat information collected by a Russian radar unit in Azerbaijan, Interfax reported.

The Gabala radar occupies a central position in Russia's missile defense architecture as it tracks Iranian ballistic missile trials and monitors for possible attacks launched from the Indian Ocean or other southern areas (see GSN, March 2).

"This proposal [to share radar data] was made earlier to President George W. Bush, and since it has not influenced the plans of deployment of the so-called third phase of the U.S. global missile defense, which is unacceptable to us, this is not under consideration now," Lavrov said to reporters in Baku (Interfax III, April 3).

Ryabkov told Interfax Moscow did not see the point in dispatching experts to observe U.S. missile interceptor flight tests.

Tauscher has said the Obama administration would invite Russian specialists to witness the interceptor launches.

"If we accept this invitation, how will it alleviate our concerns?" Ryabkov said. "The question is not in seeing an event once, but in the opportunity to assess independently what is going on there" (Interfax IV, April 3).

April 4, 2012

The United States will not agree to any constraints surrounding the establishment of its antimissile infrastructure, the U.S. ambassador to Russia said on Monday.