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A “Mismatch” of Tone and Reality on U.S.-Russia Missile Issue

The banter over the United States missile defense plans for Eastern Europe continues. Click here to read the transcript of the press briefing with Dan Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs and Air Force Lt. General Henry A. Obering, Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

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Excerpts:

LTG OBERING: Now my last one: I want to talk a little bit about some of the issues that have been raised, first of all, the Russian reaction. It’s been briefed that they consider this a threat and it changes the strategic balance between the United States and Russia. And frankly, speaking from a technical perspective and a programmatic perspective, we just don’t see that. First of all, these interceptors, the radars, are not designed against the Russian threat. You’re not going to counter the hundreds of Russian ICBMs and the thousands of warheads that are represented by that fleet with 10 interceptors in a field in Europe. The radar that we were putting there — first of all, it is designed against the Middle Eastern threat, not against the Russian threat. With the radar that we have there that we have proposed, it is a very narrow beam radar. It has to be queued. And so even if we wanted to try to track Russian missiles with that radar, we could only track a very, very small percentage of those missiles. And even if we could, passing that information off and having an interceptor try to intercept the Russian missile, we can’t do it. The interceptors that we would place in Europe are not fast enough to catch the Russian ICBMs. We’re in a tail chase from a location in Poland and if you’d like, in that — in response to any questions, I can show you some slides on that as well. … ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: My colleague made points about the threat from Iran. He also made points about the Russian reaction and it’s important to emphasize this: Russia is not the intended target and the Russian offensive, the Russian strategic nuclear deterrent, is not intended to be the target of this system and the Russians know this. Everything that has been briefed to you today has been explained both to NATO allies and in the NATO-Russia Council and to the Russians bilaterally in a series of detailed discussions, both at high level and at expert level, and these discussions are going to continue. We have not developed this system in the dark. We have not developed this system without intensive consultations with both Europeans and the Russians and that is how it should be. We were, of course, surprised by General Solovtsov’s remarks earlier this week in which he said that Russia could target Poland and the Czech Republic if they accepted elements of a defensive system on their territory. We were surprised by those remarks and frankly, found them both incomprehensible and negative. A threat against Poland and the Czech Republic makes no sense in the early part of the 21st century and we assume and hope that the General was not speaking for the entire Russian Government. And indeed, I noticed that Foreign Minister Lavrov, the following day, spoke to this issue in far more measured and reasonable tones, saying, among other things, that Russia would not respond hysterically — his words — not hysterically to a missile defense system deployed in Europe. And that is indeed how it should be. This is not directed against Russia. The Russians know this. Their technical people are certainly aware of the capabilities of the system — what it can do and what it cannot do, and what it cannot do is threaten Russia. But questions have also come up earlier this week about the Russian reaction and whether this portends a new period of U.S.-Russian tensions. I don’t think it does, and I certainly hope it does not. But let me say something about U.S.-Russian relations generally, since that’s generated a lot of interest. We have a relationship with the Russians which is very broad and includes a great deal of cooperation. And Secretary Rice pointed out after President Putin’s speech at Werkunde that his speech did not seem to reflect the reality of the cooperation ongoing with Russia in areas such as counterterrorism, counterproliferation, cooperation on issues such as North Korea and Iran. Yesterday I spent most of the day in productive and useful discussions with one of my Russian counterparts discussing some issues of European security, and we had good discussions. So there was a mismatch between the public tone and the private diplomatic reality. Certainly that mismatch was extreme with respect to General Solovtsov’s remarks about the Poles and Czechs. We hope to get past this. There’s a lot of work we have to do with Russia and work we look forward to doing with Russia.