A senior State Department official this week revealed the Obama administration’s plan for working with Russia on missile defenses.
Prior to the president’s controversial remarks in a conversation with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on missile defense, Ellen Tauscher, State Department special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, said in a Monday speech to a missile defense conference that she has been working with Russian negotiators to reach "mutually beneficial areas of cooperation."
She outlined a program of giving Russia access to missile defense tests and furthering talks she said are aimed at getting Moscow "inside the tent."
Tausher has faced criticism from Congress for her past secret dealings with Russia that raised concerns about negotiated limits on missile defense. A draft agreement drawn up by her State Department office prior to a summit meeting last year of G-8 leaders at Deauville, France was pulled back from signing over White House lawyers’ concerns it would legally bind missile defenses.
"This could be a game-changer for European security and for U.S.-Russian relations," she said. "And any cooperative agreement will not limit our ability to deploy missile defense systems, and it can and will be done in a way that doesn't compromise our commitment to NATO missile defense and all four phases of the EPAA."
Obama told Medvedev in Seoul on Monday that Russia should not apply political pressure on him during the election campaign and in return he would have "more flexibility" on missile defense talks after the election. A day later he sought to clarify the remarks as in the context of nuclear cuts and insisted he was not "hiding the football" in a secret deal with Moscow.
Tauscher said missile defense cooperation with Russia can "end Cold War thinking and move away from Mutually Assured Destruction toward Mutually Assured Stability."
"That means getting Russia inside the missile defense tent now, working alongside the U.S. and NATO," she said. "This way Russia will be able to see with its own eyes what all the phases of the EPAA really mean. Russia also will be able to see that we are focused on the threat from countries like Iran. NATO missile defense systems will not threaten Russia's strategic nuclear capabilities. I'll say it again: These systems will not threaten Russia's strategic forces."
Russia, however, remains unconvinced by U.S. "technical arguments," she said.
Tauscher said Russia wants "a legal guarantee" along with "military-technical criteria" that could limit development and deployment of future U.S. missile defenses.
"They want a piece of paper they can point to when a U.S. ship enters certain waters or when an interceptor has a certain speed," she said. "We certainly cannot accept limitations on where we deploy our Aegis ships. … We also will not accept limitations on the capabilities and numbers of our missile defense systems."
However, Tauscher said the administration is willing to agree to a political statement she said would be "politically binding," but "chart the direction for cooperation, not limitations."
Tauscher also said that "genuine" missile defense cooperation with Moscow may require more U.S. transparency to "build trust" but would not involve the transfer of U.S. hit-to-kill technology, telemetry missile test data, or other data that would compromise U.S. security.
"We must look for opportunities for transparency measures with the Russian Federation," Tauscher said. "To that end, we have offered for the Russian Federation to view one of our Aegis SM-3 missile defense flight tests. We are not proposing to provide them with classified information."
The test monitoring would allow Russia to send a ship in international waters and provide them with the time the interceptor is launched as a first step, she said.
"I would argue that we cannot let this opportunity pass. It is too important for the future of U.S. and European security," Tauscher said.
Tauscher promised to continue working for a "plan for cooperation" with Russia.
The comments by the official contrast sharply with those of Robert Gates, who as defense secretary two years ago told Congress that Russia "hates" U.S. missile defenses and is working to constrain them.
Tauscher said she met recently in Moscow with Russian officials along with all members of a U.S. interagency Arms Control and International Security Working Group.
"Our objective is not just winning some public relations points. It's about creating lasting cooperation and changing outdated thinking to the benefit of U.S. security," she said.
"Transforming missile defense from an issue of contention to one of cooperation will also help move us forward on the road toward greater nuclear reductions and, eventually, elimination."
Tauscher insisted that cooperation with Moscow would not come at the expense of U.S. missile defense plans for Europe. She said Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have "reaffirmed" the U.S. commitment to European defenses.