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U.S. seeks missile-defense shields for Asia, Mideast

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By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON | Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:17am EDT

(Reuters) – The United States is seeking to build regional shields against ballistic missiles in both Asia and the Middle East akin to a controversial defense system in Europe, a senior Pentagon official disclosed on Monday.

The effort may complicate U.S. ties with Russia and China, both of which fear such defenses could harm their security even though the United States says they are designed only to protect against states like Iran and North Korea.

The U.S. push for new anti-missile bulwarks includes two sets of trilateral dialogues – one with Japan and Australia and the other with Japan and South Korea, said Madelyn Creedon, an assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs.

Such shields could help counter perceived threats to their neighbors from Iran and North Korea and help defend the United States from any future long-range missiles that the two countries might develop, she told a conference co-hosted by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.

The model would be the so-called “phased adaptive approach” for missile defense in Europe, Creedon said. This includes putting interceptor missiles in Poland and Romania, a radar in Turkey and the home-porting of missile defense-capable Aegis destroyers in Spain.

Moscow fears that such a shield, given planned upgrades, could grow strong enough by 2020 to undermine Moscow’s own nuclear deterrent force. It has threatened to deploy missiles to overcome the shield and potentially target missile defense installations such as those planned in NATO members Poland and Romania.

China likely would be even more opposed to an antimissile shield in its backyard, said Riki Ellison, a prominent missile-defense advocate noted for his close ties to current and former U.S. senior military officials involved in the effort.

Beijing “would take much more offense to an Asian phased adaptive approach than Russia is doing with the European one,” he said, calling regional shields a good idea in theory but problematic in reality.

GULF STATES

In the Middle East, Creedon said Washington will work to promote “interoperability and information-sharing” among the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – as they acquire greater missile-defense capabilities.

The biggest U.S. missile defense contractors include Boeing Co, Lockheed Martin Corp, Raytheon Co and Northrop Grumman Corp.

The Obama administration at the same time stepped back from an announcement this month that it was weighing the possibility of giving Russia certain classified missile-defense data as the price for winning its acquiescence to the European shield.

“We are not proposing to provide them with classified information,” Ellen Tauscher, the administration’s special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, told the conference. Instead, she said, the Obama administration had offered Moscow a chance to monitor a flight test in international waters of a U.S. Standard Missile-3 interceptor.

This, she said, would let Russian officials see for themselves the accuracy of “what we are saying about our system.” The United States argues that the U.S. system poses no threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

As recently as March 6, the administration had said it was continuing negotiations begun under former President George W. Bush on a pact with Moscow that could include sharing limited classified data, but said it was making no headway toward a deal with Russia.

Obama’s administration was not the first “to believe that cooperation could be well-served by some limited sharing of classified information of a certain kind if the proper rules were in place to do that,” Bradley Roberts, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, had told the House of Representatives’ Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces at the time.

The idea of such data-sharing drew sharp criticism from Republicans in the U.S. Congress including a move to legislate a prohibition.

The rollback on any such deal involving classified data exchange came after President Barack Obama was caught on camera on Monday assuring outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with contentious issues like missile defense after the November 6 U.S. presidential election.

Obama, during talks in Seoul, urged Moscow to give him “space” until after the vote, and Medvedev said he would relay the message to Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin.

(with additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Eric Beech)

Obama seeks to defuse controversy on missile comments

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By Matt Spetalnick
SEOUL | Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:59am EDT

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama voiced doubt on Tuesday on the prospects for progress with Moscow on missile defense until after the November U.S. election as he staunchly defended remarks caught on camera the day before with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Obama was overheard assuring Medvedev on Monday that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with contentious arms-control issues after the November 6 presidential ballot, drawing sharp criticism back home from his Republican foes.

Speaking on the sidelines of a global nuclear security summit in Seoul, Obama sought to put the controversy to rest but made clear that his earlier comments reflected a political reality that “everybody understands.”

“I don’t think it’s any surprise that you can’t start that a few months before presidential and congressional elections in the United States and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia,” Obama told reporters with Medvedev at his side.

U.S. plans for an anti-missile shield have bedeviled relations between Washington and Moscow despite Obama’s “reset” in ties between the former Cold War foes. Obama’s Republican opponents have accused him of being too open to concessions to Russia on the issue.

In Monday’s talks, Obama urged Moscow to give him “space” until after the U.S. election and Medvedev said he would relay the message to incoming Russian president Vladimir Putin, who takes over at the Kremlin in May.

The unusual exchange came as Obama and Medvedev huddled together on the eve of the summit, unaware their words were being picked up by microphones as reporters were led into the room.

It was a rare public admission by a U.S. president on the world stage of electoral pressures he faced at home, and threatened to detract from his message at the summit on the need to do more to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Obama, responding to a reporter’s question on Tuesday during a break in the summit, said progress on complex arms control issues required dealings with the Pentagon and Congress to build bipartisan support and that 2012 was not a good year to get that done.

“The current environment is not conducive to these kinds of thoughtful consultations,” Obama said. “I think we’ll do better in 2013.”

The Democratic president has faced stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress to his legislative agenda on everything from job creation to taxes. Republicans have already made clear they have no interest in cooperating on further arms reduction deals with Russia.

REPUBLICAN CRITICISM

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney seized on Obama’s earlier comment, calling it “alarming and troubling.”

“This is no time for our president to be pulling his punches with the American people,” Romney said in a campaign speech in San Diego.

But Obama pushed back, insisting he was not trying to “hide the ball” and had no hidden agenda with Russia over the planned missile shield. Obama, in a speech on Monday, vowed to pursue more arms-control deals with Moscow as part of his broader nuclear disarmament agenda.

As he was leaning toward Medvedev in Seoul on Monday, Obama was overheard asking for time – “particularly with missile defense” – until he is in a better position politically to resolve such issues.

“I understand your message about space,” replied Medvedev.

“This is my last election … After my election I have more flexibility,” Obama said, expressing confidence that he would win a second term.

“I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” said Medvedev, Putin’s protege and long considered number two in Moscow’s power structure.

The United States and NATO have offered Russia a role in the project to create an anti-ballistic shield which includes participation by Romania, Poland, Turkey and Spain.

But Moscow says it fears the system could weaken Russia by gaining the capability to shoot down the nuclear missiles it relies on as a deterrent.

It wants a legally binding pledge from the United States that Russia’s nuclear forces would not be targeted by the system and joint control of how it is used.

(Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Alister Bull in Seoul, Steve Holland in San Diego, Editing by Nick Macfie)

President Obama Asks Medvedev for ‘Space’ on Missile Defense — ‘After My Election I Have More Flexibility’

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SEOUL, South Korea — At the tail end of his 90 minute meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev Monday, President Obama said that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense, but incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to give him “space.”

The exchange was picked up by microphones as reporters were let into the room for remarks by the two leaders.image

The exchange:

President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

President Obama:  This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

When asked to explain what President Obama meant, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes told ABC News that there is room for the U.S. and Russia to reach an accommodation, but “there is a lot of rhetoric around this issue — there always is — in both countries.

A senior administration official tells ABC News: “this is a political year in which the Russians just had an election, we’re about to have a presidential and congressional elections — this is not the kind of year in which we’re going to resolve incredibly complicated issue like this. So there’s an advantage to pulling back and letting the technical experts work on this as the president has been saying.”

-Jake Tapper

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North Korea to Reap Gas Transit Fees

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North Korea is likely to receive $100 million per year if it becomes a transit country for Russian gas supplies to South Korea, a Russian official said on Thursday.

In August, Russia and North Korea had reached an agreement to draw up a project to build a gas pipeline to South Korea. The pipeline will cost an estimated $6 billion.

The expected volume of Russian gas exports to South Korea was raised to 12 billion cubic meters from 10 bcm.

Supplies of Russian gas to South Korea are expected to begin in 2017.

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