The U.S. is not planning on making any changes to its missile defense system in Europe, a U.S. official said Wednesday, despite a warning from Russia's president that Moscow will target the U.S. system if Washington goes ahead and deploys the planned shield.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will station missiles in the country's westernmost Kaliningrad region and other areas if the U.S. goes ahead with deployment. The warning came less than two weeks after Medvedev met with President Obama in Hawaii and the two offered vague assurances on cooperation.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor responded that the U.S. has explained through "multiple channels" the purpose of the defense system and that it's not aimed as a strategic deterrent to Russia. He said the U.S. will make no changes to the program.
"Implementation of the New (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty is going well and we see no basis for threats to withdraw from it," Vietor said in a statement given to Fox News. "We continue to believe that cooperation with Russia on missile defense can enhance the security of the United States, our allies in Europe and Russia, and we will continue to work with Russia to define the parameters of possible cooperation. However, in pursuing this cooperation, we will not in any way limit or change our deployment plans in Europe."
Earlier, Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, emphasized that the U.S. missile defense program is not a threat to Russia's security or its forces.
It "is focused on addressing the growing missile threat from Iran," Kirby told Fox News, adding that the U.S. has been forthcoming with Russia about its plans
"We have been addressing Russia's concerns through an intensive dialogue and detailed briefings at senior levels. The U.S. and NATO have welcomed Russia to participate in missile defense cooperation. This is the best way for Russia to receive transparency and assurances that missile defense is not a threat," he said.
Russia considers the plans for missile shields in Europe, including in Romania and Poland, to be a threat to its nuclear forces, and while Moscow had agreed to consider NATO's proposal last fall to cooperate on the missile shield, the talks have been deadlocked over how the system should operate. Russia has insisted that the system should be run jointly, which NATO has rejected.
Speaking in Hawaii on Nov. 12, Obama said his relationship with Medvedev had led to "successfully" establishing "the reset of U.S.-Russia relationships," which had "borne concrete fruit" in the form of the new START deal and sanctions on Iran.
But Medvedev was more hesitant about the measure of success shared between the two nations, and specifically mentioned the missile shield.
"Over the recent years, we achieved progress on matters where there was no progress. Barack has just recalled the START treaty. If we manage to emphasize similar efforts on European missile defense, just like other issues, I’m sure we'll succeed," he said.
On that same trip, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said the U.S. has a commitment to protecting itself and its allies, and suggested Washington will move forward with the missile defense system.
"We've made clear to the Russians that this is based not against Russia, but against the threat of ballistic missiles from states that are outside of international norms," Rhodes told reporters. "At the same time, we decided to pursue with the Russians a dialogue about missile defense. But, again, we have our interests that we're very clear with the Russians about."
Medvedev warned Wednesday that Moscow may opt out of the new START deal and halt other arms control talks if the U.S. proceeds.
"The United States and its NATO partners as of now aren't going to take our concerns about the European missile defense into account," Medvedev said, adding that if the alliance continues to "stonewall" Russia it will take retaliatory action.
Medvedev warned that Russia will deploy short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Baltic Sea exclave bordering Poland, and place weapons in other areas in Russia's west and south to target U.S. missile defense sites. Medvedev added that prospective Russian strategic nuclear missiles will be fitted with systems that would allow them to penetrate prospective missile defenses.
"We don't see any reason for Russia to take any military countermeasures to missile defenses that won't affect the strategic balance between the U.S. and Russia," Mark Toner, State Department spokesman said Wednesday.
Medvedev's comments come ahead of Dec. 4 parliamentary elections in Russia. He leads the ruling United Russia nationalist party list in the parliamentary vote. They also follow a U.S. announcement on Tuesday that Washington will stop sharing data with Russia on U.S. forces in Europe. That decision was a reaction to talks stalling over reviving a conventional forces treaty that governs the number and position of troops and conventional weapons stationed in Europe.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.