Turner to Obama: What Flexibility?
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A senior House Republican on Monday accused President Obama of going back on promises he would not weaken U.S. missile defenses through negotiations with Russia after the president was overheard promising more concessions after his reelection.
Rep. Michael R. Turner (R., Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, sought an explanation for the overheard comments made by the president Monday in a discussion in Seoul with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
Obama told the outgoing Russian president that “this is my last election and after my election I’ll have more flexibility” regarding contentious missile defense talks with Moscow that have been underway for the past three years.
“Congress has made exquisitely clear to your administration and to other nations that it will block all attempts to weaken U.S. missile defense,” Turner stated in the letter. “As the chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, which authorizes U.S. missile defense and nuclear weapons policy, I want to make perfectly clear that my colleagues and I will not allow any attempts to trade missile defense of the United States to Russia or any other country.”
Turner noted that during the December 2010 ratification debate over the New START arms treaty with Russia the president made specific promises that Russia’s opposition to U.S. missile defenses would not impact U.S. plans to deploy both short- and medium-range missile defenses in Europe and elsewhere.
Additionally, the president promised to make both “qualitative and quantitative improvements in its missile defenses,” Turner said.
“You have already walked away from detailed promises to modernize the U.S. nuclear deterrent; are you now planning to walk away from your promises regarding U.S. missile defense as well?” Turner asked.
Amid concerns that the administration planned to share highly classified missile defense secrets with Russia in an effort to assuage Moscow’s fears that U.S. defenses will target its missiles, the defense authorization bill signed into law by the president contains a provision that limits the president’s ability to share classified data with Russia.
“Congress took this step because it was clear based on official testimony and administration comments in the press that classified information about U.S. missile defenses, including hit-to-kill technology and velocity at burnout information, may be on the table as negotiating leverage for your reset with Russia,” Turner said, noting that the president said he may treat the limit as nonbinding when he signed the defense bill into law.
The comments in Seoul, in addition to the signing statement, “suggests that you and your administration have plans for U.S. missile defenses that you believe will not stand up to electoral scrutiny,” Turner said.
Turner said Congress has made clear to the administration and to other nations that it will block all efforts by the administration to weaken missile defenses.
The subcommittee chairman added that as the chairman in charge of overseeing missile defenses and nuclear weapons policy, “I want to make perfectly clear that my colleagues and I will not allow any attempts to trade missile defense of the United States to Russia or any other country.”
The revealing comments by Obama followed a 90-minute meeting with Medvedev at the end of the nuclear security summit.
“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama said, referring to newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility,” Obama said.
Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl criticized the president for promising concessions on missile defense.
In a statement, Kyl said that the president canceled plans for anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland and Czech Republic and supported langauge in the New START arms treaty that links missile defense to nuclear reductions.
“We know the administration is sharing information with Russia, including plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe,” Kyl said. “We know the president has significantly reduced funding and curtailed development of the U.S. national missile defense system, undermining our ability to effectively intercept long-range ballistic missiles. And we know the president has doubled-down on efforts to reduce our nuclear arsenal while failing to honor his promises to modernize the aging nuclear weapons complex.”
However, Kyl said what is unknown is what Obama has planned for after the election after gaining the reported “flexibility” in dealing with Moscow.
“Perhaps the Russians, in whom President Obama recently confided, could shed some light on his missile defense plans for the American people who otherwise have been left in the dark by this president,” Kyl said.
Deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes said in a statement issued late Monday that the United States is “committed to implementing our missile defense system, which we’ve repeatedly said is not aimed at Russia.”
“However, given the longstanding difference between the U.S. and Russia on this issue, it will take time and technical work before we can try to reach an agreement,” Rhodes said.
“Since 2012 is an election year in both countries, with an election and leadership transition in Russia and an election in the United States, it is clearly not a year in which we are going to achieve a breakthrough.”
Rhodes said Obama and Medvedev “agreed that it was best to instruct our technical experts to do the work of better understanding our respective positions, providing space for continued discussions on missile defense cooperation going forward.”
Putin told reporters last month prior to his election as president that lengthy talks with the United States on European missile defense had failed because U.S. negotiators were unwilling to codify oral proposals made in the talks as part of a formal agreement.
“They made some proposals to us which we virtually agreed to and asked them to get them down on paper,” Putin told foreign news editors Feb. 2.
“They made a proposal to us just during the talks, they told us: we would offer you this, this and that. We did not expect this, but I said: we agree. Please put it down on paper. We were waiting for their answer for two months. We did not get it, and then our American partners withdrew their own proposals, saying: no, it’s impossible.”
The proposals included guarantees that U.S. and NATO missile defenses would not be directed at Russia’s missiles.
Additionally, U.S. negotiators, according to Putin, offered the ability to conduct round-the-clock monitoring of anti-missile systems and radar to make sure they were fixed toward Iran and unable to target Russia.
“This would not change the situation dramatically, but we said: okay, it’s already something, we agree. Put it down on paper. But they refused,” Putin said.
The comments contradict the statements of Ellen Tauscher, former undersecretary of state for international security, who denied that she and other U.S. officials had offered concessions to Moscow on missile defenses that would legally constrain U.S. defenses.
Tauscher, who has since stepped down, drafted a missile defense agreement that was to be signed at the May 2011 summit of G-8 leaders in Deauville, France. However, White House lawyers pulled the draft agreement before it could be signed over concerns it would be interpreted by Moscow as containing provisions on U.S. systems that would be legally binding.
The Obama administration in 2009 rejected a plan by the George W. Bush administration to deploy long-range interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe that would be used to protect the United States from missile attacks from Iran.
Instead, the administration has developed what it calls a Phased Adaptive Approach for Europe that involves less-capable SM-3 missile defense interceptors that will not be capable of protecting the U.S. homeland from missile attack for at least a decade from now.
The concession was designed to coax Russia into an agreement on missile defense. Instead, Russia has responded by threatening to deploy advanced short-range nuclear-capable missiles in western Russia.
A senior Republican aide told the Free Beacon that Obama’s comments were distressing.
“If there was any doubt how dangerous Barack Obama would be for America’s security in a second term, the president put all uncertainty to rest today,” said the source, who closely tracks foreign policy matters. “The president just told us that he is itching to hand over America’s most secret missile defense data to a country that is arming Syria and fueling Iran’s Bushehr reactor—and he would do it today but for his re-election concerns. With no political constraints in a second term, who knows what Obama will do.”
The adviser also said Obama’s remarks should cause concern among pro-Israel forces in America.
“If this is what the president’s promising the Russians on missile defense, God only knows what he’s promising Arab leaders about Israel,” noted the souce. “If you think Barack Obama was bad for Israel in term one, put your seatbelt on and get ready for term two.”