Congressman Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio, sent a letter to President Obama demanding an “urgent explanation of [his] comments to [Russian] President Medvedev in Seoul this morning,” only hours after a hot microphone caught Obama privately telling Medvedev this morning that he’ll have “more flexibility” after the November 2012 elections to deal with Russian objections to U.S.-NATO missile defense.
Although the United States and NATO have repeatedly assured the Kremlin that their missile defense systems are aimed at defending against Iran and other threats emanating from the Middle East, the Russian government continues to claim that the missile shield is aimed against its nuclear-armed missile forces.
Turner writes: “Congress has made exquisitely clear to your Administration and to other nations that it will block all attempts to weaken U.S. missile defenses. As the Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which authorizes U.S. missile defense and nuclear weapons policy, I want to make perfectly clear that my colleagues and I will not allow any attempts to trade missile defense of the United States to Russia or any other country.”
Congressional testimony and news reports suggest that the Obama administration, in the hopes of mollifying the Kremlin’s concerns, is now willing to offer to share with the Russians classified U.S. information about the performance of U.S.-NATO missile defenses as part of future bilateral negotiations. However, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA) contains a measure that limits the executive branch’s ability to share classified U.S. information about missile defenses with the Russians.
But when President Obama signed that the NDAA legislation into law on December 31, 2011, he created a controversy by issuing a signing statement suggesting that he treats that measure as “non-binding.”
Section 1244 [of the FY 2012 NDAA] requires the President to submit a report to the Congress 60 days prior to sharing any U.S. classified ballistic missile defense information with Russia. Section 1244 further specifies that this report include a detailed description of the classified information to be provided. While my Administration intends to keep the Congress fully informed of the status of U.S. efforts to cooperate with the Russian Federation on ballistic missile defense, my Administration will also interpret and implement section 1244 in a manner that does not interfere with the President's constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and avoids the undue disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications…. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.
Read Turner’s letter to President Obama here.