By Carlo Muñoz - 03/28/12 05:14 PM EDT
An Obama administration official on Wednesday said he was not aware of any "secret deal" made by the White House on missile defense as Republicans continued to hammer the president for his remarks to Russia's leader on the issue.
Republicans have questioned where there is a deal between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on missile defense since Monday, when Obama told Medvedev — in a private conversation picked up by a live microphone — that he would have "more flexibility" to deal with missile defense after the presidential election.
"As we talk to the issue of North Korea ... it raises the question what is the president's secret deal to limit our missile defense systems," Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) asked officials at a Wednesday hearing.
"We are all very, very concerned about what this secret deal could be, as we face the rising threat of North Korea," he said during Wednesday's House Armed Services hearing on security issues on the Korean peninsula.
Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of Defense for Asia and Pacific Security Affairs, told Turner's panel he was unaware of any "secret deal," and defended U.S. missile defense policies toward the Korean peninsula.
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He noted that North Korea's growing arsenal has prompted the Pentagon to work closely with South Korea and other regional allies to keep track of Pyongyang's activities. "We do believe our ... approach to missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region is very much alive," Lavoy said. "It is something we are committed to."
Republicans in the Senate — along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) — on Wednesday continued to criticize Obama for his comments to Medvedev.
"This is my last election,” Obama told Medvedev during a conversation picked up by live microphones. “After my election, I have more flexibility."
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"It means he's willing to compromise to Russian demands," McCain told reporters on Wednesday.
The gaffe came days before both leaders are scheduled to attend a global nuclear security conference in South Korea.
"The president is playing fast and loose with national security," McCain said, pointing out that the president had been a sharp critic of missile defense during his time in the Senate.
The president's missile defense comments were "disconcerting," Lieberman said at the same Wednesday briefing on Capitol Hill.
"I don't know what the president meant when he said he could be flexible" on missile defense issues, he added.
More than 40 Republican senators, led by Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), sent a letter to Obama on Tuesday, pushing him not to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the wake of his comments.
Turner also shot off a letter to the president on Monday demanding an “urgent explanation" of his comments regarding missile defense issues in Eastern Europe.