WASHINGTON, August 23 (RIA Novosti) – Russian officials conducted a secret inspection this week of a US missile defense base in California under the auspices of the New START arms treaty, a conservative US website reported.
The officials on Friday were set to wrap up a week-long visit to the Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California for the inspection of five missile defense interceptors as part of the treaty signed between the two countries in 2010, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Thursday, citing officials in US President Barack Obama’s administration.
The US State Department and the White House National Security Council did not immediately provide comment when contacted Friday morning by RIA Novosti, and a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington said he was traveling in Moscow and unable to comment on the report.
But the Free Beacon cited officials from the State Department and the US Defense Department as confirming the visit.
The defense official said the inspection was part of a treaty verification visit hosted by the US Defense Threat Reduction agency, while the State Department official said it was related to New START but declined to give further details, the Free Beacon reported.
“Implementation activities under New START are confidential,” the website cited the official as saying.
The reported inspection is a one-time visit allowed under the New START deal, the Free Beacon reported, a treaty signed by the US and Russian presidents in Prague in April 2010. It entered into force in February 2011.
The deal requires both nations to cut their arsenals to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads by 2018.
In the negotiations leading to New START, Russia demanded that the five ground-based interceptor (GBI) silos at the California base be included in the deal to allow Russian officials to monitor the United States’ conversion of long-range launch tubes into missile defense shooters, the Free Beacon reported.
Washington initially resisted the provision but ultimately allowed the one-time visit because the silos had been converted from offensive intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos, the website cited former US Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Thomas Moore as saying.
“The United States is required to conduct a one-time exhibition not later than three years after the treaty entered into force at Vandenberg to show Moscow how it distinguishes GBI silos from ICBM silos,” Moore said, the Free Beacon reported.
Under the New START treaty, both sides are prohibited from converting ICBM launchers to missile defense interceptors, though this provision does not extend to ICBM launchers converted prior to the signing of the deal.
The missile defense issue has been a sticking point in US-Russia ties in recent years.
Moscow remains staunchly opposed to US plans to deploy elements of a missile defense system in Europe, saying it undermines Russia’s security.
Washington, meanwhile, insists that its missile defense systems are aimed at protecting the United States and its allies from potential attacks from Iran and North Korea.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced in March that the United States would add additional ballistic-missile interceptors on the West Coast in response to “irresponsible and reckless provocations” from North Korea.
“We will strengthen homeland missile defense by deploying 14 additional Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) at Fort Greely, Alaska,” Hagel said. “That will increase the number of deployed Ground Based Interceptors from 30 to 44, including the four GBIs at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.”