House Speaker John Boehner joined a growing chorus of critics concerned over President Obama's secret promise of concessions to Russia on missile defense after the November elections.
The administration came under fire from an independent, and a senior Pentagon official was sharply questioned at a House hearing.
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In a letter to the president, House Speaker John Boehner said he was "alarmed" by the message sent to incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin through Medvedev.
"I and other members of the House have previously expressed concern about your administration’s apparent willingness to make unilateral concessions to Russia that undermine our missile defense capabilities," he said. "Your comments reinforce those worries.
"It is troubling that you would suggest to Russian leaders that their reckless ambition would be rewarded with greater ‘flexibility’ on our missile defense program after the upcoming election," he wrote. "That has significant implications for the security of our homeland, sends a terrible signal to our allies around the world, and calls into question the effectiveness of your ‘reset’ policy with the Russian government."
Boehner said the American public and Congress would not support future concessions to Russia and noted recent legislation passed by Congress blocking the administration from concluding any agreements that diminish missile defenses without a congressionally approved treaty. "This is an imperative upon which we continue to insist," he said.
Boehner also said Obama’s attempt to clarify the comments "provided little clarity" and combined the issue of missile defenses with Russia’s nuclear weapons.
Any concessions to Moscow on missile defense talks should be reported to Congress, he said, adding "a post-election surprise on this critical issue would not be welcomed by the American people, the Congress, or the world community."
Meanwhile, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Peter Lavoy was questioned during a House hearing by Rep. Michael Turner (R., Ohio) about Obama’s comments.
"I'm not aware of any secret deal," Lavoy said under sharp questioning from Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.
Pressed on whether he knew of any secret deal with Moscow, Lavoy said he did not know.
"I can assure you that we do believe that missile defense and our phased-adaptive approach to missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region is very much alive," Lavoy said. "It's very much part of our comprehensive approach to deal with the threat posed by the North Koreans, and it's something we're committed to."
Lavoy declined to specify the steps being taken in response to North Korea’s announced plan to launch a satellite next month and offered details in a secret session.
The possibility of limiting U.S. missile defenses as part of an agreement with Russia is "a serious concern to this committee as we look to the rise of North Korea," Turner said.
"Are you aware of the subject matter of the president's missile defense deal, secret or not, with the Russians? And if you're not, why are you not?" Turner asked.
The lawmaker asked Lavoy to "ask the president what are the details of his deal with the Russians concerning missile defense that cannot be disclosed until after the election."
"And please report it back to this committee because we have grave concerns as to a president having any restrictions on our defensive systems, especially with, as you have eloquently described, the rising threat of North Korea," Turner said.
Regarding North Korea’s announced plans for conducting the launch of a satellite next month, Turner said North Korea has moved a long-range rocket to a launch pad on Monday in preparation for a test launch.
"North Korea's threat of a missile launch can only be an effort to test, perhaps ahead of deployment, an intercontinental ballistic missile that would have capability of reaching the United States," Turner said.
Although the planned North Korean launch appears to be readying for launch from a static pad, U.S. officials suspect the latest test is part of a new road-mobile ICBM under development in North Korea.
Road-mobile missiles are more advanced than those fired from silos or launch pads because they usually are solid-fueled and can be fired quickly compared to liquid-fueled missiles that take time to set up.
Last year, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters traveling with him to Asia he was concerned that North Korea is developing a new long-range missile that poses a direct threat to the United States.
"We also know of [North Korea’s], of course, nuclear weapons program, which makes their missile program that much more of a concern," Turner said.
North Korea said the satellite it plans to launch will analyze crop production and natural resources, the Associated Press reported from Seoul.
In the Senate, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and John Hoeven criticized the president for the comments on missile defense in a meeting with reporters Wednesday.
Lieberman said the president’s promise to Russia of more flexibility on missile defense was "disconcerting."
Lieberman said U.S. missile defenses are designed to defend U.S. allies and the United States from attack, particularly from Iran, and he did not know what the president was saying in the overheard conversation.
Facing widespread criticism, Obama on Tuesday sought to clarify the statements, claiming it was part of his overall effort to eliminate all U.S. nuclear weapons and that the political campaign makes negotiating difficult. He said he was not "hiding the football" on the missile defense talks that have been underway for the past three years and have produced no agreements because of Russian insistence that any pact including legally binding restrictions on defenses in Europe.
"The president really ought to reassure all of us that he's going to stick with the program that we're on now because that program is, in my opinion, is critically important to the security of the American people for years and years to come," Lieberman said. The Huffington Post first reported his comments.
McCain said the president’s comments indicate he plans to make concessions to Russia, and the candid overheard remarks raise questions about the president’s policies in a second term.
"He tries to laugh that off, but obviously when you say to the adversary that I'm going to be, quote, more flexible … we know what that means," McCain said. "It means he's willing to compromise to Russian demands concerning missile defense in Europe."
McCain said Obama is playing fast and loose with U.S. national security and is a lesson to those worried about a second Obama administration.
"Some years ago then-Sen. Obama said that he didn't believe in missile defense, so that adds to the skepticism about what he meant," McCain said.