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U.S. Invites Russian Participation in Missile Defense Program

29 March 2007

Officials say deployment should not be viewed as new arms race

Washington -- Top U.S. defense and diplomatic officials again invited Russian participation in a newly developed air defense system in Europe designed as a safeguard against ballistic missile attacks from potential threats in East Asia and the Middle East.

Ambassador Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Air Force Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, briefed journalists March 28, following a trip to Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands where they discussed countering a potential nuclear-armed missile attack.

Fried said the discussions included "a mixture of genuine interest in this new strategic challenge that Iran poses, genuine interest in discussing how missile defenses can play a stabilizing role."

The United States currently is negotiating with Poland to set up a site for 10 interceptor missiles and with the Czech Republic for the deployment of a missile radar-tracking system.

The defensive system would use missiles without warheads to bring down incoming ballistic missiles endangering not only the United States and the trans-Atlantic community, but also Russia, Fried said. He emphasized that the missile system is not and should not be viewed as a new arms race.

Fried and Obering have met with Russian officials on several occasions to discuss Russia’s participation in the defense system without much success.  In November 2006, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov went so far as to term the deployment a "destabilizing" move that could resurrect a Cold War-style arms race.

On the contrary, Fried said, the system was non-nuclear and purely defensive.  "The notion that somehow missile defense has to be seen as part of an emerging arms race between the United States and Russia" has no relationship to reality.

The reality is that arms reduction is going apace, he said.  "The Treaty of Moscow, which reduced arms, reduced warheads on both sides, is being implemented.  It calls for massive reductions in warheads on both sides, down to between 1,700 and 2,200 by the end of 2012.  The United States is on target to meet reductions.  Russia is well on target to meet reductions."

Turning back to the missile defense system, Fried said, "I certainly think that cooperation with Russia is something we would be interested in.  I think the way forward lies through continued consultations with the Russians," in part, to allay their concerns about the program.

"We've had a long track record of consultations with them on this issue.  We intend to continue those," he told the journalists.

On the question of whether NATO should be integrated into the missile program, Fried said, "In our view, the more NATO is involved in this, the better.  And the bilateral systems which the United States is preparing to discuss with the Poles and the Czechs could be -- and in fact we would all benefit if they were -- integrated with national systems and linked up with some sort of NATO-integrated system."

On the technical side, Obering said his command had experienced "very good success" in testing the missile defense system.

"We have now had 24 successful hit-to-kill intercepts in about 32 attempts since 2001," he said.  "It is a capability that does work and that we will rely on as we move into this 21st century."

Like Fried, Obering emphasized that the system was purely defensive.  "These are not offensive missiles.  They do not even carry warheads.  There are no explosives on these missiles.  We operate on … a hit-to-kill technology." Using that type of technology, Obering said, the United States would drive a very small missile, weighing 70 to 75 kilograms, into an enemy warhead to destroy it.

Asked if it is currently feasible to extend the missile program's protective coverage to Russia, Obering said, "There certainly is the ability, the technical ability, to do that and we would welcome those types of discussions with the Russians."

In addition, he said, there are "capabilities that the Russians themselves have that could be incorporated … into a larger system, a larger capability.  It could run the gamut from data and information exchange all the way to potentially the interaction of systems themselves and technology exchange."

Obering said that in coming weeks he and Fried plan to visit Spain, Turkey, Greece and Hungary to discuss the missile defense system before traveling on to the NATO-Russia Council for further discussions.

For additional information, see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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