The Cable

Report: Top arms-control officials heading to Eastern Europe to deliver missile-defense assessment

The Weekly Standard is reporting that top Obama administration arms-control officials are en route to Eastern Europe right now to deliver sobering news to officials there about U.S. plans for ballistic missile defense. Ellen O. Tauscher, the new under secretary of state for arms control and international security, and Alexander Vershbow (right), the Pentagon’s assistant ...

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Alexander Vershbow, the US ambassador in South Korea, speaks during a press conference in Seoul on April 28, 2008. Vershbow said North Korea's alleged involvement in Syria's covert nuclear programme underscores the gravity of proliferation risks. AFP PHOTO/CHOI WON-SUK (Photo credit should read CHOI WON-SUK/AFP/Getty Images)

The Weekly Standard is reporting that top Obama administration arms-control officials are en route to Eastern Europe right now to deliver sobering news to officials there about U.S. plans for ballistic missile defense.

Ellen O. Tauscher, the new under secretary of state for arms control and international security, and Alexander Vershbow (right), the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for international security affairs, are reportedly set to meet with Polish and Czech leaders to give them the results of the administration’s policy review on the matter, including their verdict on Bush administration plans to build sites in their countries.

State Department sources would neither confirm nor deny whether the officials are on the move.

President Obama has promised to overhaul the missile-defense program throughout his campaign and presidency and Tauscher led the charge in Congress to prevent construction of the European sites from commencing.

Tauscher was also the State Department’s representative on the Pentagon-led interagency task force assigned to make the new recommendations.

Those recommendations were expected later this month, but the secret reported trip could be an indication that Obama himself has signed onto whatever the decision is.

In interviews with The Cable that were conducted before the news of the trip broke, two senior officials explained the administration’s thinking about the missile-defense review.

“This is a recharacterization of what the threat is and how you respond to the threat,” one official said, explaining that previous designs were geared toward the future threat of Iranian long-range missiles, whereas the Obama team wants to focus on the missiles Iran has now, which are short- and medium-range and can only reach Europe.

In an interview with The Cable, Tauscher herself made that argument and also said she wanted to spend more on existing technologies and less on development of futuristic systems.

“What is important is to get the priority of the threat right, current versus emerging. The point of this is to understand the threat, understand what you need to deter and defeat the threat, and what you have to deploy that’s proven technology to deter and defeat the threat,” said Tauscher, “You get those right, it leads you to a place.”

Lawmakers are concerned that abandoning the current plan leaves new allies Poland and the Czech Republic twisting in the wind, after governments there spent so much political capital on selling the sites to their parliaments and publics.

“Whatever is done needs to be done in a way that continues our strong support for the Poles and the Czechs,” said Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “That’s important whatever way we decide to go.”

The administration review focused on alternatives for the long-range interceptor planned for Poland, which include short-range interceptors and sea-based missiles.

A senior GOP Senate aide said that the effect of the administration’s switch to short- range systems, such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), was that the program would no longer have any capability to defend the U.S. homeland and would only be able to protect parts of Europe.

“The important fact here is that if you go with the land-based SM-3s, you don’t protect the United States,” said the aide.

“It changes the nature of the debate,” the aide continued. “Why should the U.S. spend 6 or 7 billion dollars just to protect Europe? That’s going to be a completely different argument.”

UPDATE: “Administration officials were expected to brief lawmakers and government officials in Poland and the Czech Republic on results of the review on Thursday,” the AP reports, citing “an administration official and a congressional aide.”

File Photo by CHOI WON-SUK/AFP/Getty Images

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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