The Obama administration, despite public denials, held secret talks with Russia aimed at reaching a ballistic missile defense agreement that Moscow ultimately rejected in May, according to an internal State Department report.
Disclosure of the report to The Washington Times comes as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday pressed for a new anti-ballistic missile treaty, warning that a failure to reach an agreement would trigger a new strategic arms race.
The four-page document circulated on Capitol Hill stated that administration officials held four meetings with the Russians and last spring presented a draft Ballistic Missile Defense Cooperation Agreement (BMDCA) to Russian negotiators.
The internal report contradicts congressional testimony by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June denying a missile defense deal was in the works.
Debate over missile defense talks with Russia could affect the administration’s push to win Senate ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [START] before the end of the year. New START opponents in the Senate have said the treaty, which limits offensive nuclear arms, could be used by the Russians to constrain U.S. missile defenses. Moscow has threatened to withdraw from the treaty if the United States expands its missile defenses, currently on ships and at bases in Alaska and California.
A State Department official said congressional staff will be briefed on the internal report on Wednesday.
“The BMDCA was designed to be a framework agreement under which the United States and Russia could begin missile defense cooperation while not limiting either party’s missile defense capabilities in any way,” states the report, which is labeled “sensitive but unclassified.”
The draft 10-year agreement would have set up a BMD Cooperation Sub-Working Group. The Circular 175 was “approved by Under Secretary [of State Ellen] Tauscher on May 5, 2010,” the report said.
However, “the Russian Government indicated at the time it was discussed last spring that they were not interested in a ballistic missile defense cooperation agreement,” the report said.
The draft missile defense agreement was first reported in The Times on June 16, noting that U.S. officials feared it would limit defenses.
A day later, Mrs. Clinton was asked about The Times report and dismissed the idea of any secret draft agreement to limit defenses. “No. 1, there is no secret deal. No. 2, there is no plan to limit U.S. missile defenses, either in this treaty or in any other way. And No. 3, on that score, the story is dead wrong,” she said.
Mr. Gates, appearing with Mrs. Clinton, also denied any draft agreement was being negotiated, stating that “whatever talks are going on are simply about trying to elicit [Russian] willingness to partner with us along with the Europeans in terms of a regional missile defense.”
When asked whether the draft agreement was public, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Times on June 18 “there is no draft agreement to provide you.”
Critics in Congress, including nine Republican senators, have questioned the administration about the talks amid worries that an agreement would impose limits on U.S. missile defense systems, weapons many arms control proponents have opposed in the past as an impediment to reaching agreements with the Russians.