Secretary Gates Offers Missile-Defense Partnership with Russia

By Vince Crawley
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – The United States has invited Russian officials to visit U.S. anti-missile sites in Alaska and California, and is offering unprecedented partnership in missile defense while trying to address concerns about the proposed placement of missile interceptors in Central Europe, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Moscow.

Gates visited President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian leaders April 23 to discuss the U.S. proposal for placing 10 missile interceptors in Poland and one advanced radar unit in the Czech Republic. The host governments would have to approve the proposal.

Russia has expressed strong concern about whether the proposed anti-missile system would upset the current balance of power between nuclear nations. The United States says the system would have no effect on Russia’s missile capabilities and instead is aimed at defending against future threats from the Middle East, particularly Iran. The Central European location is intended to defend against long-range intercontinental missiles and would have only limited ability to fire on Russian-based missiles because there would not be enough geographic distance to allow accurate targeting. The United States also says the U.S. system’s 10 interceptors are also not numerous enough to be effective against Russia’s hundreds of warheads. (See related article.)

Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Gates said he visited at Putin’s invitation and that he “felt very welcome” and “felt we made some real headway in clearing up some misunderstandings about the technical characteristics of the system that are of concern to the Russians.”

Gates stressed that his visit is only one round in a lengthy series of negotiations with Moscow. He said the United States has offered unprecedented levels of openness and would like to build a missile-defense partnership with Russia.

“Among other things, we invited them to inspect the interceptor site in Alaska. We invited them to visit a radar site that’s similar to the one that we are contemplating that is now in California,” Gates said.

“The key to this is cooperation. We would like to have the Russians as partners in this process. We would like to share information with them. We are prepared to co-locate radars with them. We think that there are some real opportunities here for both sides, and I think that that there are some opportunities. That involves, as I quoted the president, a great deal of transparency on our part, and we are prepared to do that.”

Gates said that based on conversations with experts, a missile-defense partnership plan - proposed in mid-April to both NATO and Russia – “went well beyond anything that anybody had seen before in terms of its detail and the scope of what we were talking about.” (See related article.)

However, Russia remains unconvinced that Iran’s missile program offers a realistic threat to Europe, Gates said.

“I think the Russians are skeptical that the Iranians will have a ballistic missile that has intercontinental range or the range to hit targets in Western Europe in the foreseeable future,” Gates said. In talking with Putin and with Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov, Gates said he emphasized “that we needed to look at this strategically, and that we needed to look 10 to 20 years out. Based on my own experience in the intelligence world, anyone who would argue that Iran and other countries in the Middle East might not have missiles of that kind of range and capability would be making a very risky assessment.”

Gates traveled to Poland April 24 to discuss the missile-defense proposal.

A transcript of Gates’ remarks to reporters is available on the Defense Department Web site.

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