In a statement today, Sergei Prikhodko – Russia President Dmitri Medvedev’s senior foreign policy adviser – contradicted the White House’s repeated assertion that the treaty that will be signed tomorrow in Prague by Medvedev and President Obama has no substantive linkage between a reduction in offensive nuclear arms and the US plans for missile defense in Europe.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently stated that “linkage to missile defense is clearly spelled out in the accord and is legally binding.”
Are they wrong? ABC News asked a senior Obama administration official.
“Yes,” was the reply.
The treaty is not yet publicly available, but Prikhodko quite unambiguously declared in his statement today (read it HERE) that Russian “negotiators had to insert the inextricable connection between strategic offensive and strategic defensive armaments (i.e. missile defense) into the treaty. This was successfully fulfilled and the importance of this connection when reducing strategic offensive armaments will be included in the treaty and be legally binding…”
Prikhodko also stated that the treaty is “unequivocally based on the assumption that strategic offensive armaments will be reduced to such an extent that will ensure security of either party and take into account the presence of strategic defensive systems capable of neutralizing strategic offensive armaments. This interconnection has been legally stipulated.”
Another senior Obama administration official pointed out that Prikhodko never asserted that there are any “constraints on the development of US missile defense in the treaty,” which is – to the White House — what’s key.
On March 26, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "there has been a very intense continuing consultation on the Hill as the negotiations have proceeded," and one area of specific concern was "are we protecting our ability to go forward with missile defense…Missile defense is not constrained by this treaty."
The treaty preamble declares that offensive and defensive weapons are inextricably linked, but Obama administration officials see that as a matter of physics not policy.
Yesterday the US agreed with Lavrov’s assertion that either side can exit the treaty in the interests of its own national security. A source close to the Russian government says Medvedev clearly sees missile defense as an issue of national security, and the Russians seem to be suggesting to their own domestic audiences that the linkage in the preamble would allow them to exit the treaty in the name of their own national security, should they feel US missile defense development poses a direct threat.
Obama administration officials say the Russians don’t need a specific reason – any country can withdraw from any treaty for its own reasons. But Medvedev is getting beaten up quite a bit in the Russian media by hardliners, so this “linkage” claim is seen as pre-signing spin.