Defense Secretary Gates, Secretary Of State Rice, Urge Russia To Tone Down
Rice Sees Russian ‘Interest’ In Euro BMD System
Multi-Day Meetings Begin In Moscow Today
Two White House Cabinet members, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are holding multi-day meetings with their Russian counterparts to urge an end to bluster, bombast and threats that Moscow has directed against a planned European ballistic missile defense system.
As a peace offering for Russian leaders, Gates offered to delay turning on the European missile defense system until Iran demonstrates it has missiles capable of reaching Europe, according to The New York Times on the Web.
Gates and Rice began at the top, meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
Rice said Russians are showing "interest" in the ballistic missile defense plan (BMD), according to wire service reports. While she said that doesn’t mean Russia has accepted, or even lessened its opposition to, the BMD plan, she said their response has prompted her and Gates to assess that face-to-face meetings would be worthwhile.
While the United States wishes to build a Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system to protect Europe and U.S. troops there from enemy ballistic missiles launched from Middle Eastern nations such as Iran, Russians have excoriated the idea.
Russian leaders up to and including Putin have alleged the GMD system really is targeted at Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), a claim that U.S. leaders dismiss as fantasy.
GMD missile interceptors aren’t fast enough to catch a Russian ICBM, and in any event there will be only about 10 of the interceptors. Russia, in contrast, has hundreds of ICBMs and nuclear warheads.
Moscow at various points has threatened to use a military assault to demolish any GMD system that would be built in the Czech Republic (radar) and Poland (interceptors in silos); vowed to target European cities again in classic Cold War style; and tried to set Europeans against the GMD proposal.
During the talks, Gates and Rice are attempting to introduce some reason into the furious words emanating from Russia, and persuade them to modulate their remarks.
The top-level American duo received some support from NATO last week, leading up to the talks.
A NATO spokesman urged Russia to tone down the remarks, according to Kommersant, a Russian daily online news service.
"We have seen too much rhetoric at too high a level … we would like to see it dialed down," Kommersant quoted NATO spokesman James Appathurai saying during a video-conference with Russian media arranged by RIA Novosti. "Fiery rhetoric does make the headlines and there has been a little too much of it," he added.
The GMD site would be the third in the global system, with the first two sites already built in Alaska and California. The Boeing Co. [BA] is the leading contractor in the program.
How much progress Gates and Rice can achieve with the Russians is unclear, however.
Some military analysts see Russia as not truly fearing the GMD interceptors would threaten Russian ICBMs. Rather, the analysts see Putin and others in Moscow wishing to create problems for the United States, harking back to Cold War days when the Soviet Union was a superpower. That makes for popular fare with the Russian public.
As well, analysts see Russia angry that the United States would bring its missile defense system into the Czech Republic and Poland, former Iron Curtain nations that the Soviet Union dominated.
What Russian leaders ignore, however, is that Iran is a rising threat.
In the past two years, Iran has launched multiple missiles in a single test; developed or acquired missiles of increasingly long range, and fired a missile from a submerged submarine. As well, Iran has refused demands from Western nations and the United Nations to stop producing nuclear materials. While Iran claims the materials are to power an electrical generating plant, Russia already has supplied enough nuclear material to power the plant. Western leaders fear Iran really is producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons to mount on its missiles. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped from the map.
Now, Iran claims it will launch a satellite into orbit. That would be the same technology required to develop an ICBM, meaning that Iran then would have the ability to launch a missile striking the United States.