- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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.

As part of the U.S.-Russia talks, the State Department submitted to Congress on May 5 a legal memorandum called a Circular 175 report that is required before reaching treaties and agreements.

“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.

The concerns were heightened by a section of the State Department internal report describing the Pentagon’s new Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in Europe. The report, which was produced after last month’s NATO summit in Lisbon, made no mention of the fourth and final phase of the European missile defense program.

The omission prompted new concerns that the Obama administration may have put the fourth phase on hold to avoid upsetting the Russians, congressional aides said.

The fourth phase calls for deploying 48 advanced silo-based versions of the SM-3 anti-missile interceptor by 2020 for use against an anticipated Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile. The 48 SM-3s would replace the 10 ground-based interceptors planned for a site in Poland that was canceled after Moscow voiced opposition to it.

Three Republican senators wrote to President Obama on Monday asking about recently announced plans by NATO to include Russia in a program of missile defense cooperation, specifically whether Moscow will gain access to “some our country’s most sensitive technology, collection assets and real-time intelligence.”

The lawmakers, led by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and Senate minority whip, posed 12 questions suggesting they had serious national security concerns about Russian involvement in missile defense cooperation.

They also asked for documents regarding the secret meetings on missile defense held between Mrs. Tausher and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov, who have been leading the missile defense negotiations.

A senior State Department official said the proposed BMDC agreement is still being negotiated. “We are still talking,” said the official, who noted “enormous success” in talks with the Russians during the NATO summit.

“The Russians are interested” in cooperation with NATO, the official said.

In October, six Republican senators wrote to Mrs. Clinton asking whether any agreements with Russia will impose limits on defenses. The senators, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, stated that “senators must be assured that these talks and potential missile defense agreements will not limit U.S. and allied missile defense development and deployment in any fashion whatsoever.”

“We have stated, ad nauseam, we’re not limiting missile defenses,” the State Department official said.

Asked about Mr. Medvedev’s comments on the need for a missile defense agreement, the senior official said it was “a positive step” for the Russian leader to recognize the need to address common missile threats.

In Moscow, Mr. Medvedev said Russia faced two futures in the next 10 years: “Either we will reach an agreement on the missile defense systems and will create a full-fledged joint cooperation mechanism or, if we fail to reach a constructive agreement, a new spiral of the arms race will be launched.”

The Russian president said in a state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly that the alternative is “a decision on the deployment of new offensive forces.”

Russia also is prepared to work toward countering the spread of missiles, noting that during the recent NATO summit in Lisbon, he proposed a possible European missile defense architecture that would link European and Russian defenses from missile attacks.

“We have already launched working on the whole scope of related issues. This is certainly the positive development,” Mr. Medvedev said.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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