By John T. Bennett - 11/23/11 07:34 PM EST
The White House and Kremlin clashed Wednesday over Washington’s plans to erect a missile defense shield in Europe, with Moscow threatening to withdraw from a nuclear arms pact as retribution.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pulled the plug on negotiations between Washington and Moscow over missile defense cooperation, saying Obama administration officials have held back on assuaging Russian concerns about the system.
The White House answered with a defiant statement, vowing to move forward with its European missile shield plans.
“We continue to believe that cooperation with Russia on missile defense can enhance the security of the United States, our allies in Europe, and Russia, and we will continue to work with Russia to define the parameters of possible cooperation,” Vietor said. “However, in pursuing this cooperation, we will not in any way limit or change our deployment plans in Europe.”
But if Medvedev’s comments hold, it would be a major setback for the Obama administration, which has touted its efforts to restart the Washington-Moscow relationship. Administration officials often tout the New START nuclear weapons-reduction treaty and its ongoing missile defense talks as examples of warming relations.
The relationship turned chillier Wednesday.
“We are to replace the friction and confrontation in our relations with the principles of equality, indivisible security, mutual trust and predictability,” Medvedev said, according to media reports. “Regrettably, the USA and other NATO partners have not shown enough willingness to move in this direction.”
Russian officials have been pressing their U.S. counterparts for more information about Washington’s plans to erect a missile shield in Europe. Moscow wants more proof that the system is being designed to counter Iranian missiles — not to target sites inside Russia.
American officials, when asked to assuage such concerns, merely “repeat that these plans are not directed against Russia and that there is no point for us to be concerned,” Medvedev said. “That is the position of the executive authorities, but legislators in some countries openly state the whole system is against Russia.”
Medvedev fired a shot across the Obama administration’s bow, saying that without more information about the European system, his nation will exit the New START Treaty.
“The United States has been open and transparent with Russia on our plans for missile defense in Europe, which reflect a growing threat to our allies from Iran that we are committed to deterring,” Vietor said. “In multiple channels, we have explained to Russian officials that the missile defense systems planned for deployment in Europe do not and cannot threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.”
The Senate ratified the nuclear-arms pact, but House Republicans have objected, charging that the treaty gives Moscow too much sway over America’s missile defense plans.