AP: Sen. Carl Levin, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said Friday he believes the time is ripe for the U.S. to pursue a fresh partnership with Russia aimed at deterring Iranian missiles.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Carl Levin, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said Friday he believes the time is ripe for the U.S. to pursue a fresh partnership with Russia aimed at deterring Iranian missiles.
The Michigan Democrat said he has spoken with President Barack Obama's advisers, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a private conversation, and that he believes they are open to the idea. Levin said pushing for the cooperative effort would be among his top priorities this year on the committee, which helps to oversee the Pentagon's $600 billion-plus annual budget.
"There is potential here for a real breakthrough in terms of our relationship with Russia" by focusing on building a capability that would intercept an Iranian missile, Levin told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Levin said a united front between the two countries could help deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.
"Russia clearly does not want that to happen, perhaps not as visibly or dramatically as we don't want it to happen," he added. "But nonetheless, it is not in Russia's interest — they clearly know it — that Iran get a nuclear weapon."
The U.S. has already tried to entice Russia's cooperation on missile defense in Eastern Europe by casting the construction of interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic as protection for Moscow against an Iranian missile. But Russia remains opposed to the program, which it contends is aimed not at Iran but at its own massive nuclear arsenal.
Levin said he was interested to hear of a Russian news agency report earlier this week that Moscow might back off from its threat to deploy Iskander missiles near the Polish border.
But Russia on Friday knocked down that possibility when it announced the threat still stands.
The ministry said that Russia would only deploy the missiles if the new U.S. administration moves ahead with plans, initiated by President George W. Bush, to move ahead with the interceptor missiles and radar.
"We are convinced that there is a reasonable alternative to the deployment of (missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic) in the form of multilateral cooperation on an equal basis involving Russia, the U.S. and European countries, which should begin with a joint analysis of missile threats," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "We are ready to develop such cooperation. Our proposals on this score are well known. They remain in full force."
Obama has not been explicit in public about whether he plans to proceed.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a congressional hearing this week that he's tried talking to Russian officials about the issue and agrees "there's some real opportunities here." But, as Gates also pointed out, there remains much disagreement on just how much of a threat Iran poses.
"I think the Russians have an unrealistic view of the timeline when an Iranian missile with the range to attack much of Russia and much of Europe will be available," Gates said.
AP Moscow Correspondent Steve Gutterman contributed to this report.