U.S. to Push European Missile Defense Plans
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 31, 2008 The United States will continue to push for a missile defense system in Europe despite resistance from Russia, a top Pentagon official said ahead of President Bush’s visit with Russia’s top leader this week.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England today said the United States has offered “a wide range of proposals” on working through disagreements with Russia over building U.S. radar and interceptor sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Construction on missile defense sites could begin once “necessary agreements” are reached with the two nations, he said.
“Despite some Russian reluctance to sign up with these cooperative missile defense activities, we continue to work towards these goals,” England told an audience at the sixth annual U.S. Missile Defense Conference here.
Russian senior officials have expressed fears that the extension of the U.S. system into Europe could be used against their country.
In attempts to assuage Russia’s concerns, England said, the United States has offered to keep the system inoperative until Iran conducts further missile tests, and has proposed sharing relevant data among countries involved.
“An extraordinary series of transparency measures have also been offered to reassure Russia,” England said. He added that sites in Europe would help counter potential threats to the United States, Europe and Russia from Iranian ballistic missiles.
The deputy secretary praised NATO for making progress in developing an “active layer” of the missile defense system capable of protecting deployed alliance forces, which he characterized as a step toward keeping U.S. and allied security “tightly linked.”
President Bush, who left today for a four-nation trip, is expected to discuss missile defense with the 26 NATO members and other attendees at the alliance’s April 2-4 summit in Bucharest, Romania. In addition, he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are slated to hold talks on the issue when they meet at the Black Sea resort of Sochi following the NATO conference.
“The main issue there is to find a way, in concrete terms, to reassure Russia that the radar and missile installation that is planned in Poland and the Czech Republic are, as we say, about potential threats coming to Europe, coming to Russia, if you will, from the Middle East, and are not aimed at Russia,” National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said March 26 at a White House briefing.
Hadley noted the United States hopes to find “a formula of measures” that would reciprocate Russia for its effort to cooperate in an integrated missile defense system while respecting Czech and Polish sovereignty.
In a meeting at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, last July, Putin offered to incorporate a radar and early warning system in southern Russia into the defense system’s architecture as an alternative to the other European sites.
Earlier this month, officials expressed optimism in an agreement reached in Moscow to draft a “strategic framework” document that could guide U.S.-Russian negotiations on the European missile defense plan.
“We had the opportunity to elaborate on a number of confidence building measures and measures for transparency to provide assurance to the Russian Republic that our missile sites and radars would not constitute a threat to Russia,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said at a March 18 news conference in Moscow.
“I think both President Putin (yesterday) and our Russian colleagues today found these ideas useful and important, … and they will be studying them further,” said Gates, who was joined by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Russian officials at the meetings acknowledged the United States was working to assuage fears that the system could threaten Russia. They also agreed on the importance of maintaining continuity while both administrations change their top leadership in the months to come.
But Russia’s defense minister remained steadfast against the U.S. proposal.
“In principle, our positions have not changed,” Serdyukov said. “We can say that we have a lot of work to do, but we need to see these proposals to look at them, to understand them, and then, following the work at the expert level, we’ll make a decision on how to move forward.”
Asked today whether Bush’s upcoming talks with Putin will yield success, Hadley said U.S. officials remain hopeful at the possibility.
“I think we're moving in a direction where something that some of us have been working for, for a long time, where Russia and the United States could have missile defense as an area of strategic cooperation,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Kyiv, Ukraine.
“Interestingly, that was something that President Putin said when he talked to the press at Kennebunkport last summer,” he continued. “And we are trying to see if we can articulate that in concrete terms.”