U.S., Russia clash over shared missile program

Moscow would get a role in NATO defense

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Talks between the U.S. and Russia over a new anti-ballistic missile system for Europe are stuck on a key point, with Moscow demanding to run the system jointly and Washington refusing to yield.

Russia is insisting on shared control of the missile defense program with the U.S. and NATO, which President Obama has flatly opposed because it essentially would give Russia responsibility for protecting NATO from nuclear missile threats. The U.S. is offering Moscow a more limited role.

After years of opposition, Russia agreed last fall to talk at least about cooperating on the anti-ballistic missile plan for Europe, which the U.S. says may be needed one day if Iran develops nuclear weapons. Analysts from both sides are scheduled to report on details of the proposal to defense ministers in July.

However, Moscow has refused to budge from its demand for joint control and has been keeping up the rhetorical pressure. In late November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said if the U.S. and NATO cannot reach an agreement on missile defense, Russia may deploy new offensive weapons, triggering another arms race.

Early this month, a Russian deputy foreign minister warned that anything less than a “joint system” could lead Russia to withdraw from the recently ratified New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and to “take other measures, including military-technical measures.”

Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, told an industry-sponsored conference in Washington recently that the two sides still have not reached a good understanding of how a joint program would work. He warned that his country was not interested in “cloning” decisions already made by the U.S.

Referring to Russian fears that the missile defense system could target Russian warheads, Mr. Kislyak said Moscow is determined to maintain a strategic nuclear balance with the West.

“We want to be reassured that whatever you do there doesn’t undermine the stability of deterrence, because deterrence is still with us,” he said Wednesday at the Nuclear Weapons Monitor Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Washington.

“We haven’t reached a state … between our two countries that would allow us to abolish it. We would like to see it happen. But that’s going to be a long way [off].”

The U.S. and NATO have proposed sharing radar and other early warning data, but Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, the top U.S. arms control negotiator, told the industry summit that Mr. Obama has decided that “NATO will protect NATO, and that’s the bottom line as far as we’re concerned.”

The issue could make or break the deal.

“The hardest question on missile defense in the end is who pulls the trigger,” said Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution, a veteran of U.S. arms control negotiations and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He nevertheless thinks that an agreement can be reached.

The White House had hoped that the New START limiting U.S. and Russian strategic weapons, effective Feb. 5, would be a springboard to further arms deals, including deeper cuts in strategic forces as well as reductions in short-range nuclear weapons and non-deployed warheads.

U.S. officials say that new limits on the strategic arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, which between them control 90 percent of the world’s deployed nuclear arms, are crucial to efforts to halt the spread of those weapons and promote disarmament worldwide.

Both U.S. and Russian officials have been vague about the details of Russia’s proposal for a joint missile-defense system, which Mr. Medvedev has called a “sectoral” defense.

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