- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2010

As the Obama administration prepared to send the new U.S.-Russian arms treaty to the Senate for ratification, differences emerged Monday between Moscow and Washington over whether the agreement limits missile defenses.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia reserved the right to pull out of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, if the level of U.S. missile defense forces increases.

“The package of documents presumes that the treaty is concluded in circumstances where the parties have appropriate levels of strategic defensive systems,” Mr. Lavrov said. “Changing these levels gives each party the right to decide the question of its future participation in the process of reducing strategic offensive arms.”

However, Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, told reporters on Monday that the new START would not limit or bind U.S. actions whatsoever with regard to missile defense.

“As we’ve talked before, the presidents met in July, and they made it very clear that there is an interrelationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive weapons,” she said. “But there is no limit or constraint on what the United States can do with its missile defense system.”

The difference in interpretation on missile defense could determine the fate of START when the administration sends the document to the Senate for ratification. President Obama will need the support of at least eight Republicans to reach the 66-vote margin for a two-thirds majority required under the Constitution for treaty ratification.

Ms. Tauscher said the administration’s goal is to send the treaty to the Senate by late spring, with the goal of ratification by the end of the year.

John R. Bolton, former arms-control director at the State Department and ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, said he will withhold judgment on the treaty until the administration responds to congressional queries under oath about it. Mr. Bolton is an influential voice among Republicans on arms-control issues.

“It is still not clear what the expectation is on missile defense or on subsequent negotiations on missile defense,” Mr. Bolton said. “Is there a commitment for further discussions on missile defense? I don’t think we will know this until we see the terms of the treaty itself and there is a chance for questions in congressional testimony.”

The text of the treaty, which will replace the 1991 START, which expired in December, has not been made public. The treaty is expected to be signed in Prague next month.

The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, has said he will vote for START. But other influential senators, such as Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, have not indicated where they stand on the pact.

A group of 41 senators wrote to Mr. Obama in December to remind him that last year’s National Defense Authorization Act contains language that links any new strategic arms treaty to a much-needed program to modernize aging U.S. nuclear forces.

The senators, representing enough votes to block ratification, stated in the letter that the nuclear modernization plan should be fully funded and sent to the Senate along with START for ratification.

Last year, the Obama administration announced that the United States would remove missile-defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland, in part to resolve what the administration viewed as an unnecessary irritant in U.S.-Russian relations. Moscow opposed the stationing of ground interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic.

Mr. Obama has said that he instead will deploy a system called a “phased adaptive approach” involving sea-based and less capable missile defenses oriented to hitting medium-range missiles from Iran rather than longer-range missiles capable of reaching the continental United States.

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