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Missile Defense Talks Resume
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Tom Z. Collina

In response to the Obama administration’s March decision to cancel plans for long-range missile interceptors in Europe, Russian officials have agreed to join the United States in senior-level talks on missile defense in late April, the Defense Department has confirmed.

The meeting would be the first significant effort to restart missile defense cooperation talks since they broke down almost two years ago, possibly opening a door to U.S.-Russian negotiations on additional nuclear arsenal reductions beyond the levels established by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller will lead the bilateral discussions in Brussels on April 30, Antonov told reporters in Moscow on April 16 and a Pentagon spokesman confirmed in an April 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today. The meeting was announced after U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon’s visit to Moscow on April 15.

Antonov said that, in Brussels, the U.S. officials “are expected to elaborate on the changes in the U.S. plans in the area of missile defense, namely their giving up the fourth phase of deploying the missile defense system in Europe.”

Despite tense relations over missile defense, human rights, and other issues, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet twice this year, on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries in Northern Ireland in June and in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September for what is being billed as a “bilateral summit.”

Missile defense talks broke down in 2011 over Russian concerns that the fourth phase of the U.S. European Phased Adaptive Approach, which included plans for deploying Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB long-range interceptors in Poland by 2022, would threaten Moscow’s strategic nuclear missiles. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced March 15 that the United States would “restructure” the SM-3 IIB program and shift resources toward fielding 14 additional ground-based interceptors by 2017 at Fort Greely in Alaska to address recent provocations from North Korea. That would bring the total number of long-range interceptors in Alaska and California to 44. (See ACT, April 2013.)

Speaking at a conference in Warsaw on April 18, Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, clarified Hagel’s remarks by saying that the SM-3 IIB “will no longer be developed or procured.” The Obama administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2014, submitted to Congress on April 10, has no funding for the SM-3 IIB program (see).

Even so, Russia continues to say that the U.S. shift on missile defense does not go far enough. After meeting in Brussels on April 23 with NATO foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Moscow is studying U.S. proposals on missile defense cooperation and is “ready for dialogue but cooperation could be only equitable, with clear-cut guarantees.” Russia has been demanding “firm legal guarantees” that the U.S. interceptors to be fielded in Europe would not be used to shoot down Russian strategic missiles. The United States has repeatedly declined to give such guarantees.

Donilon and Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, discussed missile defense and the prospects for additional arms reductions with Putin and senior Russian officials April 15.

Donilon gave Putin a letter from Obama, according to both governments. Putin aide Yuri Ushakov told the Interfax news agency April 15 that the letter “covers military-political problems, among them missile defense and nuclear arsenals.” He added that the Putin-Donilon conversation “had a rather positive nature, same as the messages sent by the Obama administration.”

In another sign that Russia may be adjusting its stance on missile defense, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said April 16 in a speech at the Russian Embassy in London that U.S. missile defense plans do not pose a threat to Moscow’s strategic nuclear weapons, RIA Novosti reported. “We have solved the issue of penetrating the U.S. missile shield and it poses no military threat to the country,” said Rogozin, who has been critical of U.S. missile defense plans in the past.

Posted: May 2, 2013