May 3, 2011
By THOM SHANKER and ELLEN BARRY
WASHINGTON — The United States and Romania announced an agreement on Tuesday on the location for basing American antimissile interceptors in Romania as part of a program designed to link Washington and its NATO allies against an Iranian threat. The agreement immediately drew complaints from Russian officials.
Officials said the site selected for a key component of the missile-defense system was Deveselu Air Base, near the city of Caracal in southern Romania. The deployment of the SM-3 missiles is expected by 2015, officials said. About 200 American personnel are expected to help operate the system.
Russia immediately complained that the interceptors in Romania could undermine its nuclear deterrent, and said the step ignored commitments made by the United States that Russia would have a role in decision-making.
“We regret to say that practical steps on building the European segment of the U.S. global defense system are being made regardless of Russian-U.S. dialogue on missile-defense problems, which was started under a decision by President Dmitri Medvedev and President Barack Obama,” said a statement from Russia’s Foreign Ministry, according to the Interfax news service.
The statement expressed a Russian desire for legal guarantees from the United States that the missile defense system would not target Russian missiles.
American officials rejected the Russian complaints, and cited the invitation from the United States and NATO for Moscow’s participation in a common missile-defense system for Europe.
“Missile-defense cooperation with Russia is a key U.S. goal,” said a Defense Department official, speaking under standard ground rules of anonymity for discussing diplomatic matters.
“We believe cooperation on missile defense is in the security interest of both our countries,” the official said. “We are actively seeking cooperation with Russia in bilateral channels and through NATO. Cooperation is the best way to provide Russia transparency and reassurances that missile defense is not a threat to its security.”
Russia had vehemently opposed an antiballistic missile shield proposed under President George W. Bush. In September 2009, Mr. Obama announced a reconfiguration of his predecessor’s proposed antiballistic missile shield in Eastern Europe, one that would focus on short- and medium-range missiles, partly quieting Russian objections.
The administration’s new plan would deploy, in four phases, existing SM-3 interceptors using the sea-based Aegis system and an improved version in 2015 on ships and on land. Rather than the 10 bigger interceptors originally envisioned, there could be 40 to 50 of the smaller missiles on land and more on ships.
Russia revived its objections as Moscow and Washington were negotiating the New Start treaty in 2010. Russia tried, unsuccessfully, to include language in the treaty that would restrict the development of the missile shield.
The United States and NATO maintain that the reconfigured missile-defense system based in Europe could not diminish the deterrent power of Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal, and state that the system of antimissile interceptors and radars is designed to halt missiles from Iran.
Thom Shanker reported from Washington, and Ellen Barry from Moscow.