Presidents Obama and Medvedev spent some time congratulating each other for their good working relationship, but mistrust between the two countries persists, Obama administration officials acknowledged today.
The most pronounced issue has to do with the “Phase Four” of US plans for missile defense in Europe, Michael McFaul, the senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, told reporters, acknowledging that mistrusts persists.
Earlier this month, Russian military leaders announced a new heavy ICBM that would be able to penetrate any anti-missile defense shield would be deployed by 2018.
After meeting with President Obama, Medvedev told reporters that disagreements about missile defense “will finally be solved in the future for example in the year 2020 but we at present might lay foundation for other politicians’ activities.”
The reference to “2020” was a specific reference to the approximate time frame when the US’s SM-3 Block IIB interceptors would be ready to shoot down “any medium- and intermediate-range missiles and potential future ICBM threats to the United States from the Middle East," per the State Department.
“The Russian concern is that we get to that phase we’ll have the capability to threaten their ICBMs,” McFaul said.
McFaul insisted that the US has no intention of threatening Russian ICBMs, nor does it have the capability to do so. He said the US has repeatedly told the Russians “we do not have an interest in undermining strategic stability, it’s not in our national security interest” and “would lead to a new arms race.”
The U.S. has shown the specs for the SM-3 Block IIB interceptors – which only exist conceptually – to Russian experts to try to alleviate their concerns.
But the Russians are concerned that the technology surrounding the SM-3 Block IIB interceptors could evolve and, in 2020, be able to take out their missiles, McFaul said.
The U.S. responds, McFaul said, by acknowledging that, yes, the technology could evolve and no, the U.S. will not put any restraints on its technology. But the threat is from Iran, not Russia.
“Cooperate with us,” McFaul said the US tells Russia, “work with us, get into our system so you have a better understanding of what are real capabilities and not fictional ones.”
President Obama told reporters today that he and Medvedev “continued discussions around the issue of missile defense and committed to working together so that we can find an approach, configuration that is consistent with the security needs of both countries.” He said his “interactions with President Medvedev have always been excellent.”