U.S. Aims to Reassure Russia on Defense Sites

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday in Moscow that Russian leaders appear concerned a U.S. plan to place 10 missile-defense interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic could pose threats to Russia, should the characteristics of the facilities change in the future.

After meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, Gates said: "The current design and current 10 interceptors, they acknowledge are not probably a threat to Russia in any way."

But, Gates added: "I think one of their concerns is . . . a few years from now, the character of these sites might change and, in fact, become a greater concern in terms of Russia's strategic security. And I think those are issues that we can address."

Gates said Putin mentioned his concerns about the forward base agreements the United States has reached with Bulgaria and Romania. And recently, other U.S. officials have publicly discussed how the missile-defense agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic will lead to deepening bilateral defense relationships with those countries.

Gates, who spent much of his CIA career analyzing intelligence about the Soviet Union, said: "I think there are some misunderstandings about some of the technical characteristics" of the radar and interceptors, and he said they could be clarified.

The U.S. plan calls for putting in Poland 10 silo-based interceptor missiles, which would carry non-explosive warheads and would occupy an area about the size of a football field. The "kill vehicles" on the interceptors are objects of about 150 pounds, designed to destroy enemy warheads at heights of 45,000 feet by hitting them at great speeds. The missile will not be tested until 2010.

In addition, Washington proposes to place a fixed midcourse radar system in the neighboring Czech Republic, possibly along with a transportable one. The system would be rebuilt from one now based in the Marshall Islands.

The stated purpose of the facilities is to protect U.S. forces deployed in Europe -- as well as allies and friends -- from long- and intermediate-range missiles launched from Iran or another Middle Eastern site. The plan is to have the systems in place by 2013, two years ahead of when U.S. intelligence believes Iran could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile and a nuclear warhead to go with it.

Gates said yesterday he thinks that the Russians "are skeptical" Iran would have such a weapon, but that he told them they had to think 10 to 20 years ahead.

"Based on my own experience in the intelligence world," Gates told U.S. and Russian reporters, "anyone who would argue that Iran or other countries in the Middle East might not have missiles with that kind of range and capabilities would be making a very risky assessment."

The defense secretary said the Russians have been invited to look at the U.S. interceptor site in Alaska and a radar system in California similar to the one planned for the Czech Republic. We "would like to have the Russians as partners in this process," he said.

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