NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE NOT READY FOR ACTION?

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Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates visit Moscow for negotiations

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have met with their Russian counterparts, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. This meeting, with missile defense as the key topic, was planned as the focus of the high-level visit to Moscow.


The tone of this week’s talks in Moscow with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been far more welcoming than it was during their last visit to Moscow in October 2007.

The New York Times maintains that this welcoming atmosphere is due to a letter sent by President George W. Bush to President Vladimir Putin. The details of Bush’s letter have not been disclosed, but sources say that he set out his vision of possible ways to strengthen bilateral relations.

Rice started her second day in Moscow by attending an hour-long breakfast meeting with Russian civil society representatives and business executives (invited guests included Grigori Yavlinsky and Vladimir Ryzhkov – but not Mikhail Kasyanov or Garry Kasparov). Rice and Gates then moved on to the “two plus two” talks with their Russian counterparts, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. This meeting, with missile defense as the key topic, was planned as the focus of the high-level visit to Moscow.

Meanwhile, a report released by a department of the US Congress earlier this week indicates that tests of the US national missile defense system have yet to confirm its combat readiness. For example, the report states that quality problems with interceptor missile components, detected three years ago, are still present and will not be eliminated before 2012. And the Pentagon has yet to prove that the FBX-T mobile radar is capable of tracking long-range targets in real time and transmitting data to ground-based missile defenses.

Konstantin Kosachev (United Russia), chairman of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee:

This meeting’s significance lies not so much in the US Secretary of State’s visit itself, as in the use of a new format for bilateral relations. In the 1990s, along with sector-specific contacts between various Russian and US agencies and top-level summits, there was also the Chernomyrdin-Gore Commission and other parallel formats making provisional decisions of a political nature. In recent years, however, this kind of format has been underutilized – so that in areas where sector-specific talks weren’t yielding results, issues have been taken directly to the highest level, the heads of state level, although this isn’t entirely appropriate.

I’d like to note that this is the second meeting in this “provisional” format. The first meeting was held last October, and produced some fairly interesting ideas. Unfortunately, they haven’t been developed as specific proposals. Most likely, they were “wound down” at the ministry level in both countries. I hope we can learn the appropriate lessons from this, so that a powerful political impulse won’t be allowed to dissipate this time. I am not expecting any sensational news or breakthroughs from this week’s meeting, but I am somewhat optimistic about opportunities for using these new formats.

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