By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III told Congress yesterday that the Obama administration is exploring ways to involve two Russian radar installations in a missile-defense system for Central Europe.
The comment raised new doubts about whether the administration would stick with its predecessor's plan to put U.S. interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, which has been coolly received by Russia and some in Europe.
"We are looking at the alternatives in Europe, including the Polish-Czech option, to defend against an Iranian missile threat," Lynn told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We are exploring the cooperation with the Russians . . . [and] we haven't made a final decision on how to proceed there."
President Obama and other officials have raised doubts about the European-based missile defense plan put forward by the Bush administration and opposed by Moscow. But Lynn, along with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, repeatedly indicated the potential benefits of integrating Russia into the plan.
Lynn said that a radar installation in Armavir in southern Russia "would provide helpful early-warning detection in the case of an Iranian ballistic missile attack." O'Reilly told the panel that he had visited a Russian radar facility at Gabala, Azerbaijan, and that both Russian radars would be helpful in monitoring Iranian missile tests. The data gained "would significantly help our development of our missile defenses," O'Reilly added.
Overall, Lynn said, "the involvement of Russian assets, particularly Russian radars, would enhance the capability of that kind of European-based system."
He also suggested another potential advantage of including Moscow in the effort: "A U.S.-Russian collaboration would have an additional benefit of a diplomatic signaling to the Iranians that this is an unacceptable course for them to pursue and that they will face a concerted international front, should they proceed down that path."
Cartwright agreed, saying, "Probably the greatest leverage is the partnership and the message that would send. That would be very powerful."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) told the military officials that he feared that not pursuing the Polish-Czech option would limit protection of the United States from an Iranian missile attack. O'Reilly said such a plan would provide "redundant coverage" of the United States, adding that the nation's other ground-based radars and satellites, plus interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, protect against missiles from North Korea and Iran.
Cartwright said there was an "additional contribution" from having the radar in Europe, but "the actual ability of the interceptors, the ones in Fort Greely, Alaska, do protect all of the United States."