Rice: "We have a breakthrough document on missile defense for the Alliance"

In Bucharest today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley indicated they were very pleased by the support they feel the U.S. has gotten from the NATO alliance for its missile defense proposals in Europe.

Rice told journalists: “…we have a breakthrough document on missile defense for the Alliance. Again, I remember going to that first summit, when I think the President talked about missile defense, and perhaps only two allies gave even lukewarm support for the notion of missile defense. But now it is clearly understood in the Alliance that the challenges of the 21st century, the threats of the 21st century make it necessary to have missile defense that can defend the countries of Europe; that this is important to NATO, and we will take that work ahead. The NATO allies also asked Russia to stop its criticism of the Alliance effort and to join in the cooperative efforts that have been offered to it by the United States”.

In the same briefing, Hadley told the press: “there has been, over 10 years, a real debate as to whether there is a ballistic missile threat. And I think that debate ended today, when, in the Alliance document there’s a recognize that it is a threat that threatens the Alliance. Secondly, there has been a debate as to whether what we are working on with the Polish — with Poland and the Czech Republic is part of, and accepted by NATO as part of, the defense, as a contribution to protecting NATO countries from missile defense. That also got answered today in the affirmative”.

The transcript of the remarks by Rice and Hadley was released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary, and received by email.

After the meetings, and the press briefing, the Associated Press reported, perhaps overly optimisitically, that “No matter how much Russia hates it, the U.S. now has a clear track to build its long-range missile defense system in Europe. The crucial go-ahead came Thursday from the Czech Republic, where a vital radar site would be located. NATO leaders added their unanimous backing for the idea at a European summit, all but sealing the controversial deal just before President Bush’s weekend meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin has harshly criticized the proposed system, portraying it as a threat to Russia, virtually on its doorstep. Beyond the immediate dispute, the Czech accord and the NATO endorsement marked an important moment in the long history of U.S. efforts to persuade allies of the merits of missile defense … The intent is to combine the U.S. system, which is meant to shoot down long-range missiles, with one run by NATO that could defend against shorter-range missiles that are more of a worry to countries like Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria. Because of geography, they face a nearer-term threat from Iranian missiles … The Czech radar would be linked to a set of 10 interceptors that the U.S. wants to place in Poland. The Poles have not yet agreed. Poland has insisted on U.S. military aid as part of an agreement, and Bush recently indicated that was possible. The Pentagon wants to have the Polish and Czech sites in running order by about 2012 … The Czechs agreed to host an American radar that would be used to track the flight of missiles headed toward Europe from the Middle East. It would, in effect, be a set of eyes needed to guide missile interceptors to their target — long-range ballistic missiles of the sort Washington believes Iran is developing. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said a related question — whether the Russians would be allowed to station personnel at the site to monitor the radar’s use — was a matter that his government would handle alone.
The Czechs had been upset when the Bush administration, hoping to ease Russian opposition, initially floated the idea of allowing Russian monitors last fall. Schwarzenberg’s choice of words seemed to indicate some residual anger.
‘It is something which we will talk to the Russians about ourselves — not to be there as translators for the Americans’, he said. ‘It is entirely up to us’ … At their meeting scheduled for Sunday in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Bush and Putin are expected to agree that missile defense is one of many high-priority topics for their successors. But it appears unlikely that Putin, who steps down in May, will suddenly embrace a project he considers to be provocative … The Russians, despite their heated rhetoric, seem to have come to accept that they are unlikely to stop it the system. They said as much during talks last month in Moscow with Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who have been pushing a series of proposals intended to make the project more palatable for the Russians. But this does not mean Moscow’s misgivings will stop being an irritant in U.S.-Russian relations, nor does it guarantee that the defensive shield for Europe will be the answer to missile threats. After decades of development, at a cost exceeding $100 billion, the missile defense system now in place in America — mainly at bases in Alaska and California — is unproven and unpopular in Congress. It began as a way to stop long-range missiles launched in a doomsday scenario during the Cold War years when the United States and the Soviet Union targeted each other with thousands of nuclear missiles. Today’s is more modest, designed to stop a limited attack by North Korea”. This AP report can be read in full here .