May 21, 2007

Euro-ABM: is compromise possible?

20:08 | 21/ 05/ 2007



MOSCOW. (Pyotr Goncharov, RIA Novosti political commentator) - Washington's negotiations with the Czech Republic and Poland on building U.S. missile-defense bases in those countries are slated for late May. Washington is going to try to secure some guarantees for its plan during the meetings in Prague and Warsaw.

The U.S. plan to site basic elements of its missile-defense in Poland and the Czech Republic is more likely to trigger a new cold war than ever. A series of indirect prerequisites for it have been in place for a while: Moscow has been very clear about its disapproval of the U.S. tracking radar and an interceptor battery in Eastern Europe from the very beginning, and it has not been convinced by the Pentagon's assurances that Euro-ABM was meant to protect Europe from Iranian and North Korean threats.

Poland, which is supposed to host 10 launching silos with U.S. interceptor missiles, seems to have made the decision.

The Czech Republic is a different issue, with its parliamentary opposition demanding a national referendum before agreeing to host the U.S. tracking radar. According to a public opinion survey conducted by the Czech Ipsos-Tambor research center, more than 55% of the respondents were against a U.S. radar station on the Czech soil. Much will depend on the Czech government now, which has so far been reluctant to hold a referendum.

Prague will see a second round of the U.S.-Czech radar negotiations. Washington of course wants to know how reliable Prague's decision will be. It has become a question of vital importance since State Secretary Condoleezza Rice's visit to Moscow, where she was again told that Russia adhered to its initial position on the U.S. missile defense plan. Rice, in turn, said that Washington would never abandon its Euro-ABM project and will never have anyone veto it.

In this context the Czech issue still pending will improve Moscow's chances at the upcoming Russia-U.S. missile defense talks slated for early fall. The two nations' foreign and defense ministers will meet in Moscow which would "minimize misunderstanding" between Russia and the U.S., as Secretary Rice put it. This "two and two" format must have been proposed by Washington, since the absence of Russia's Chief of General Staff, a major critic of the Euro-ABM plan, would suit the U.S. perfectly.

The latest NATO-Russia Council meeting held shortly before Dr. Rice's visit to Moscow was a complete fiasco. The chiefs of staff who met in Brussels failed to find common ground.

Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Yury Baluyevsky said Washington obviously overestimated Iran's prospects of building a threatening nuclear potential, which cannot be accepted as a rationale for the deployment of U.S. strategic missile defenses in Europe. Such moves can only lead to "new Berlin walls" in Europe, he said quoting President Vladimir Putin.

With no General Staff representatives around, and with Europe's silent accord, it might be easier for Washington to convince Moscow that the U.S. missile bases deployed just outside the Russian border are absolutely harmless. Anyway, neither side wants the controversial missile-defense issue to affect their bilateral relations, dismissing the growing crisis as "artificial in many respects." They have even agreed it is time "to tone down rhetoric in public polemics."

The latter statement sounds a little like a bilateral cease-fire pact. The question is whether the sides will eventually manage to resolve the Euro-ABM crisis. With all the advances made, there is an important factor that can hinder the process. Both sides have already pronounced their diametrically opposite positions on the issue, and they will now have to use all their ingenuity to work out a compromise and save face.

A compromise to be reached should not look like one of the sides' capitulation act. Neither Moscow, nor Washington seems prepared for it yet.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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