New York Times
April 21, 2007
By Thom Shanker
WASHINGTON, April 20 — The Bush administration is offering Russia a new package of incentives to drop its strong opposition to American missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, including an invitation to begin linking some American and Russian antimissile systems, according to senior administration and military officials.
The package includes American offers to cooperate on developing defense technology and to share intelligence about common threats, as well as to permit Russian officials to inspect the future missile bases.
American officials said the initiatives were proposed at least in part at the urging of European allies, and reflected an acknowledgment at the highest levels of the Bush administration that it had not been agile in dealing with Russia — and with some NATO allies — on its plan to place defensive missiles and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The initiatives include offers that are “deeper, more specific and concrete” than any previous proposal for cooperation from the Bush administration to the Kremlin, according to one senior official involved in planning talks with the Russians.
In military terms, the American initiative to the Russians on missile defense will include an invitation “toward fundamental integration of our systems,” said a senior military officer involved in the discussions. This concept of linking some American and Russian military systems for common missile defense would be at a level that exists in no other area of United States-Russia military relations.
The offers of cooperation will be laid out for Russian officials in the coming weeks in a series of high-level meetings being scheduled by senior American officials, in particular Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. If those talks go well, they will continue over the summer and fall between President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin.
Despite a series of bilateral sessions and meetings under NATO sponsorship to explain the American missile defense plan, Mr. Putin and his inner circle have expressed deep resentment about it, voicing their anger in caustic public comments that have greatly worried some close American allies in Europe.
The German government, in particular, has urged the administration to pull together the exact sort of initiative on missile defense cooperation and transparency that will be presented to Russia. The administration has also heard complaints from other allies, including France, that it must do better at managing the relationship with Russia if the United States wants allied support for the missile defense effort, American officials said.
“In the past, the Russians have not taken our offers of cooperation seriously, whether because they view them as insufficient or because they are obstinate on missile defense,” said another senior administration official involved in planning the initiatives.
“So Gates and then Rice will put their weight behind this new offer,” the official added. “We will not give Russia a veto over our program, but this goes well beyond ‘passive’ cooperation to new and active ways we can work together against common threats.”
Another senior administration official, explaining the accelerated effort to reach out to Russia on the issue, conceded: “We were a little late to the game. We should have been out there making these arguments, making the case more forcefully before people began framing the debate for us — and in false terms.”
The offer would include an invitation to open a joint effort at “research and technical development” of future missile defenses that could protect the territories of the United States and Russia, and their allies, the senior military officer said.
Beyond that, with the permission of the Polish and Czech governments, any eventual American missile defense bases on their territories would be open to Russian inspection, akin to the guarantees that Washington and Moscow negotiated to inspect each other’s missile silos to assure compliance with past arms control treaties, officials said.
“We are committed to the maximum level of transparency, not only with our citizens but with our neighbors,” said Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, who was in Washington this week for talks with American officials on missile defense.
Details about the new package of invitations for Russia to cooperate on missile defense were described by civilian administration officials and military officers who said they believed that the initiative was a major step forward in calming Russian objections to the American plans.
In its proposals on missile defense, the Bush administration is asking Poland to base 10 antimissile interceptors on its territory and the Czech Republic to be host to a tracking radar. Both systems are designed to defend European territory from missile attack by Iran, but have threatened to rupture ties with Moscow and have upset some NATO allies.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration and the military are showing unusual unanimity about proceeding with missile defense, in sharp contrast to bitter internal disagreements over issues like Iraq strategy and rules for detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects.
The groundwork for upcoming talks with Russia by Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice has been laid over recent weeks by quiet but intensive travels to Moscow and NATO capitals by a group of civilian and military officials. They include the under secretary of defense for policy, Eric Edelman; two assistant secretaries of state, Daniel Fried and John Rood; Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, and his deputy, Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly; and the American ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland.
American officials hold no illusions that the new incentives will guarantee Russia’s assent to the missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, as the Kremlin’s opposition to missile bases is wrapped up in domestic politics as well as its view of national security policy in Washington and its NATO allies.
To date, Russian officials have scoffed at any suggestion that Moscow’s objections to American missile defense bases in former Soviet states would be eased by offers of cooperation.
“As for possible cooperation in strategic antimissile defense, honestly speaking, I see no reasons for that,” said Sergei B. Ivanov, a first deputy prime minister who previously served as Russia’s minister of defense, in remarks quoted by the Interfax news agency.
American officials have sought to counter Russian rebukes by pointing out that the limited missile defense system envisioned for Europe — 10 interceptors whose warheads are designed to collide with approaching missiles, and do not even carry an explosive — is numerically no threat to Moscow’s vast strategic rocket force.
The proposed system, Americans say, is a prudent deterrent against a potential Iranian attack on American allies in Europe and on American forces based there.
American officials concede that part of the Russian motivation to block American missile defense is a fear that the United States, over time, might develop a bold, new “breakout” technology that could some day neuter the Russian strategic arsenal.
The concept of sharing antimissile technology with the Russians is hardly new. In fact, even when President Ronald Reagan proposed his grand plan for a leakproof missile shield under the so-called Star Wars program, he pledged that the new technology could be shared with the Kremlin in order to assure Russia that it had nothing to fear from American defenses.
The missile defense proposals for central Europe also have become a proxy issue for Russian officials who still rankle at American and NATO expansion east after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Yet even among some officials in Poland and the Czech Republic, support for the two missile defense bases has more to do with binding the United States closer to their capitals against a future Russian threat than about deterring a future Iranian missile threat.
American officials have not announced the timetable for the coming talks. But in Moscow, Igor Ivanov, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said that Mr. Gates was due there for Kremlin meetings on Monday and that Ms. Rice would visit in May.