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White House / WHITE HOUSE

Obama's Term Likely to End Without Russian Antimissile Accord, Ambassador Says

May 31, 2011

This article originally appeared in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose mission is preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

President Obama's term is likely to end without an agreement with Russia on missile defense, a senior U.S. envoy said on Friday (see GSN, May 27).

"I think Russia and the United States will not manage to reach a consensus on this issue by the end of Obama's presidential term," RIA Novosti quoted the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, as saying.

Russian and U.S. specialists have been engaged in discussions for months on the possibilities of antimissile collaboration in Europe. Those talks, however, have not assuaged Moscow's long-standing suspicions that a U.S.-sponsored missile shield on the continent would undermine the Russian strategic deterrent. The Kremlin is disappointed that Washington has not offered a legally binding pledge that the shield would not be aimed against Russia's nuclear weapons.

 

"We must receive guarantees that it is not directed at us. So far, no such guarantees have been given," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday, after a private meeting with Obama in France on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit (RIA Novosti I, May 27).

Medvedev said he was "not particularly" pleased with Washington's response to Moscow's suggestions for missile-defense collaboration, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

Russia has proposed a sectoral framework for missile defense in Europe under which Moscow and NATO would each assume responsibility for shooting down missiles traveling over a specific geographical territory. Washington has said it would never leave any NATO state's missile security in Russia's hands. The Kremlin has also called for a "red button" capability that would give it equal authority with NATO in launching a missile interceptor. Multiple anonymous Western diplomatic sources have said that the "red button" demand is a nonstarter (see GSN, May 26).

Medvedev recently warned that failure to resolve the dispute could lead his nation to bolster its nuclear arsenal (Meyer/Pronina, Bloomberg Businessweek, May 27).

Although Obama and Medvedev did make some progress at their Thursday meeting on agreeing to a legally enforceable pledge on antimissile activities, the two sides have not yet developed a final agreement, RIA Novosti reported on Friday.

"Substantive progress has been made, but it was not formalized in documentary form," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday.

"We are ready for missile-defense cooperation; we are ready to create joint systems. But we have yet to see whether our partners are ready for that," Ryabkov said. "We cannot base our security on promises" (RIA Novosti II, May 27).

Meanwhile, Obama traveled to Poland last week for talks with President Bronisław Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk on issues including implementation of the administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense, according to a White House release.

The two allies discussed efforts to carry out the first two phases of the program, which focus on the deployment this year of sea-based Aegis antimissile systems and the Standard Missile 3 Block 1A interceptor, and on the sea- and land-based fielding of a more sophisticated interceptor, the SM-3 Block 1B, around 2015.

"The United States welcomes Poland’s May 2011 ratification of our Missile Defense Agreement, and the U.S. European Command and Polish military leaders will jointly inaugurate a series of consultations to take necessary actions to implement this agreement, leading to the deployment of the EPAA’s land-based interceptor site in Poland in 2018," according to the White House (see GSN, March 8; White House release, May 28).

Elsewhere, before the start of 2014, Bulgaria could host a radar base that would support the planned NATO missile shield, the Sofia News Agency reported on Friday (see GSN, June 25, 2010).

Relying on information from NATO official Raymond Knopp, the Bulgarian Standartnewspaper reported that the alliance has elected to establish a radar base on the Botev Peak in the Balkan Range.

The newspaper's report contradicts a May 5 statement by Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov that his country would not be hosting any NATO missile-shield infrastructure in the near future.

The United States recently announced plans to deploy SM-3 interceptors at neighboring Romania's Deveselu Air Base (Sofia News Agency I, May 27).

The Bulgarian Defense Ministry on Saturday dismissed the newspaper article on the placement of the radar base on Botev Peak, the Sofia News Agency reported.

"This is a misunderstanding," said lawmaker Dobroslav Dimitrov.

Currently, Sofia's role in the NATO missile shield has involved only monetary support (Sofia News Agency II, May 28).

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