The Obama administration is studying the possibility of providing some sensitive technical information on U.S. missile defense technology to Russia, officials told a Senate panel on Tuesday (see GSN, March 6).
Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Brad Roberts said the administration is pursuing formal talks with Russia that were first initiated by the George W. Bush administration on a technical military collaboration accord that might encompass the sharing of some classified information, Reuters reported.
In an appearance before a House Armed Services subcommittee, Roberts did not say what specific technical information could be delivered under the possible deal.
Congress moved last year to require the Obama administration to give lawmakers at least two months notice on such data sharing following reports the White House was considering providing specific information on the burnout velocity of U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptors to be fielded in Europe as part of a NATO missile shield. Republican lawmakers are especially insistent that Russia not be provided with cutting-edge "hit-to-kill" interceptor technology, which the White House has promised it would not do (see GSN, Jan. 18).
The administration reportedly hopes sharing SM-3 burnout velocity data would mollify Russian concerns the interceptors could pose a threat to its long-range nuclear missiles. The Kremlin has threatened to pursue an arms buildup in the Kaliningrad region, which borders NATO states, if an accord on missile defense is not reached with the United States.
In defending the potential data exchange, Roberts pointed out that President Obama is not the first U.S. leader "to believe that cooperation could be well-served by some limited sharing of classified information of a certain kind if the proper rules were in place to do that."
"The Bush administration headed down precisely the same path," the deputy assistant secretary said.
The United States is "making no progress" in having Russia remove its objections to NATO-U.S. missile defense plans, he acknowledged.
The head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency told the House panel he was not aware of any effort by the administration to provide Russia with hit-to-kill technology.
"I never received a request to release classified information to the Russians," Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly testified beside Roberts.
The GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee would support a bill to prohibit the White House from providing sensitive antimissile technology to Moscow in return for diplomatic concessions or other favors, an anonymous congressional aide said (Jim Wolf, Reuters, March 6).
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry on Wednesday announced plans to convene a multinational forum on missile defense in May, ITAR-Tass reported.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov made the announcement following formal talks with his Ukrainian opposite, Dmitry Salamatin.
"I informed the Ukrainian defense minister about our position over the deployment of some components of the U.S. missile defense system in Europe," the Russian defense chief said. "We intend to keep working with all partners and [to] explain our position. We are also planning to attract independent experts."
Serdyukov said invitations would be extended to "all countries concerned," especially Asian and European nations (ITAR-Tass, March 7).