A week ago, the Obama administration denied Russian claims that the new START treaty limited American efforts on missile defense. Today, they’re downplaying a repeated claim on missile defense being a potential trigger for abrogation by claiming that it’s business as usual:
The new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty is a much better deal for Russia than its predecessor, but Moscow reserves the right to withdraw from it if a planned U.S. missile defense system grows into a threat, Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday.
Sergey Lavrov said Russia will issue a statement outlining the terms for such a withdrawal after President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the treaty Thursday in Prague. The new accord replaces the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, which expired in December.
Lavrov has said before that Russia could withdraw from the treaty. But his comments at a briefing Tuesday were his most specific yet on how and why a withdrawal could occur.
“Russia will have the right to opt out of the treaty if … the U.S. strategic missile defense begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces,” he said.
Jake Tapper reports the White House reaction — or better put, non-reaction:
White House officials downplayed the comments.
“There’s nothing newsworthy here,” said one senior administration official. “Any nation reserves the right to pull out of a treaty.”
Another senior administration official said that “all treaties have such provisions,” and noted that President Bush used that prerogative to get out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Every nation reserves the right to pull out of a treaty, but why sign it if the nation announces at the beginning that pursuing a defensive missile shield means the end to the treaty? The White House insisted that they didn’t agree to any such language, but their tacit acceptance — or at least shoulder shrug — of this announcement implies acceptance of those terms. After all, if the Obama administration objected to them, they could simply refuse to sign the treaty — which even the AP recognizes as much more beneficial to Russia than the US. At the least, this latest reaction from the White House is considerably weaker than the denials of last week, which strongly suggests passive acceptance of Russia’s publicly-stated terms.
The Senate will have to ratify this treaty with 67 votes. If the text gives nothing away, then it will probably pass. If Lavrov insists on tying its enforcement in Russia to our efforts in defense against rogue nations with smaller missile capacities, then the Senate should send a rebuke to both Moscow and the White House. Coming on the heels of the inexplicable recalculation of American nuclear strategy, it appears that Barack Obama has decided to resolve the major foreign-policy issues of his days at Harvard … by surrendering American initiative.