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June 17, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Missile defense deal?
The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.

According to the officials, the administration last month presented a draft agreement on missile defenses to the Russians as part of talks between Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov.

The secret talks and possible agreement have triggered alarm among pro-missile defense advocates who are concerned that the administration, in its effort to "reset" ties with Moscow, will make further concessions constraining current and future missile defenses.

Pro-arms-control officials within the administration dislike missile defenses, viewing them as an impediment to offensive arms agreements.

The administration's position on missile defenses contrasts sharply with that of the George W. Bush administration, which separated the issue of missile defense entirely from strategic arms talks. To make its point, the Bush administration abandoned the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty because of its limits on strategic defenses.

By contrast, the Clinton administration sought to extend the ABM Treaty's limits on strategic defense to short-range missile defenses, something that was opposed by the U.S. military because of the growing threat of short-range missiles.

Officials said the first linkage between missile defenses and strategic offensive arms is contained in the preamble to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The preamble refers to "the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms."

Despite administration claims that the treaty contains no limits on missile defenses within the treaty text, the third paragraph of Article 5 contains an explicit limitation on the use of ICBM launchers for "missile defense interceptors."

The administration has characterized the language as a meaningless concession to the Russians that the United States has no intention of ever carrying out.

However, the fact that the limit is contained in the treaty will provide the Russians with political leverage against the United States.

On Tuesday, Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification and the chief START negotiator, was questioned about the administration's missile defense negotiations in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Let me state unequivocally today on the record before this committee that there were no, I repeat no, backroom deals made in connection with the new START treaty; not on missile defense nor on any other issue," she said.

However, officials said later that Ms. Gottemoeller's comments sidestepped the question of missile defense talks outside the START negotiation process.

Frank A. Rose, one of Ms. Gottemoeller's deputies, suggested in a speech May 27 at a conference in London that the administration is working to reach an accord with Russia on missile defense "cooperation" as part of the U.S.-Russia Arms Control and International Security Working Group, headed by Mrs. Tauscher and Mr. Rybakov.

"The door to tangible, mutually beneficial missile defense cooperation with the United States, and potentially with NATO, is wide open," Mr. Rose said. "We look forward to continuing our discussions with Russia and to finding ways to cooperate and mutually protect our nations' national security interests."

POW commission stalled
Congressional Democrats are holding up Obama administration plans to restart the U.S.-Russian joint commission on prisoners of war and servicemen missing in action, a panel that was suspended in 2004 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The White House National Security Council has been pressing for the commission to resume its efforts to gain access to Russian archives where secret files on the fates of hundreds of missing Americans from wars are believed to be held.

A meeting of the U.S. side of the commission was held June 10 on Capitol Hill, but a key member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, was absent, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has not assigned a Democratic House member to the panel.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and the chief of staff for Rep. Sam Johnson, Texas Republican and himself a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years, took part.

The absence of the Democratic representatives was criticized by several participants. They also voiced concerns that the Defense Intelligence Agency failed to send one of its officials to the meeting.

The U.S. commission chairman, retired Air Force Gen. Robert Foglesong, reserved judgment on the Democratic no-shows but told the gathering, "We do need two active Democratic members on this commission."

Time is urgent because President Obama is expected to raise the issue of the commission when he meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who will be in Washington on Tuesday.

A White House official at the meeting told the gathering that now is a good time to win Russian assistance in resolving POW/MIA cases, noting that the administration's recent conciliatory efforts with Moscow that led to a new arms treaty, Russian backing on U.N. sanctions on Iran and Russian help with land and air routes for supplies to Afghanistan.

Another positive sign was Russia's recent opening of its archives on the Soviet massacre of Polish officers at Katyn.

U.S. officials have said privately that the Russians are believed to hold documents that will assist in the hunt for missing Americans, likely including those reported captured and held in Siberia during the Cold War and the Korean conflict.

Russia has not released documents from this region since the commission was launched in 1992. POW activists suspect Moscow has blocked access to historical records because the records are expected to show the Russians executed scores, if not hundreds, of American POWs.

"We deeply appreciate the Obama administration's efforts but are dismayed the Democratic leadership in Congress cannot find two lawmakers willing to support our POW/MIAs and their families. At a minimum, we call for Speaker Pelosi to fill immediately the empty commission seat for a Democratic congressional representative so that person can take part in the upcoming meeting," said Dolores Alfond, chairwoman of the National Alliance of Families.

"We also ask Sen. Kerry to step aside in favor of a senator willing to devote the time and energy needed for this critical mission," she said.

White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Mr. Obama looks "forward to exploring ways to revitalize and reinvigorate the work of the commission" in talks with Mr. Medvedev.

"The White House strongly supports the excellent work the U.S.-Russia Presidential Commission on POW-MIAs has done in bringing closure to the American and Russian families of those lost or missing in war," he said.

A House Democratic aide said the commission is not viewed as a "formal" unit, but that Rep. Vic Snyder, Arkansas Democrat, has been working with it. "Since Snyder is retiring after this year, the speaker will likely appoint another House Democrat soon," the aide said.

Frederick Jones, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said in a statement that the Massachusetts Democrat missed the meeting because he was attending a meeting with Senate committee leaders.

No 'Kumbaya' exchanges
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was recently snubbed when he sought to visit China, told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on Wednesday that he wants to resume substantive military exchanges with China, despite Beijing's canceling recent exchanges to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

"I believe those contacts are necessary, and not just sort of ship visits and the uniformed officers talking with one another, but from a policy standpoint and from a strategy standpoint," Mr. Gates said.

He added, "I have no interest in a military-to-military relationship where we basically get together and sing 'Kumbaya,' but I think that having a relationship where we can talk about things that are really potentially dangerous in our relationship has all kinds of merit, and I'm a strong proponent of contacts with the Chinese military for that kind of a dialogue," he said.

Mr. Gates said the Pentagon is "very concerned" with China's growing anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, saying they are "a real concern for our Navy and for us." He also expressed concern about China's cyberwarfare capabilities and anti-satellite weapons.

No filibuster on gays
There will be no filibuster of the pending defense budget bill that contains a repeal of the military's gay ban at least not from Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is leading the fight to preserve the ban.

Contrary to a smattering of press reports, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee is not trying to find the votes to block the bill, which may reach the floor next week. A filibuster takes 60 votes to override.

"Sen. McCain is not filibustering the bill," his spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

Asked whether Mr. McCain will offer an amendment to strike the repeal from the bill, Ms. Buchanan said, "I think it's a bit early. Sen. McCain is still deciding on the amendments he plans to introduce."

The Senate committee approved repeal, with one Republican voting yes and one Democrat opposed. The vote came up despite pleas from the four-star chiefs of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to wait until a Pentagon ordered-study on the effect of gays serving openly in the ranks is completed later this year.

The House has voted to end the current policy a 1993 law signed by President Clinton that became known as "don't ask, don't tell."

The fact that Mr. McCain will not filibuster means repeal is all but certain, although Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has latitude on the timeline.

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