The statements about missile defense that are coming out of the U.S. administration are somewhat contradictory, but it appears that the United States is willing to accommodate Russia's concerns about the missile defense development in Eastern Europe. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced at a press-conference in Prague on October 23, 2007,
[...] we would consider tying together the activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat; in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on. We have not fully developed this proposal, but the idea was we would go forward with the negotiations, we would complete the negotiations, we would develop the sites, build the sites, but perhaps would delay activating them until there was concrete proof of the threat from Iran.President Bush in his remarks at the National Defense University the same day was not that specific, but his words did not really contradict what Secretary Gates said:
As part of the new relationship, we're inviting Russia to join us in this cooperative effort to defend Russia, Europe and the United States against an emerging threat that affects us all. For his part, President Putin has offered the use of radar facilities in Azerbaijan and southern Russia. We believe that these sites could be included as part of a wider threat monitoring system that could lead to an unprecedented level of strategic cooperation between our two countries.
For our part, we're planning to deploy a system made up of 10 ground-based interceptors located in Poland and an X-Band tracking radar located in the Czech Republic. Such a system would have the capacity to defend countries in Europe that would be at risk from a long-range attack from the Middle East. We're also working with NATO on developing capabilities to defend countries against short- and medium-range attacks from the Middle East. We want to work on such a system with Russia, including through the NATO-Russia Council. The danger of ballistic missile attacks is a threat we share -- and we ought to respond to this threat together.
It would be very unfortunate if Russia turns down this offer. Strictly speaking, Russia's position on missile defense in Europe has been a bit different - Russia argued that there is no threat from Iran and therefore no need to deploy the defense system. The radars in Gabala or Armavir that Russia offered to the United States were supposed to monitor developments in Iran, rather than be incorporated into the U.S. missile defense system. But the difference is not very large and I would argue that the United States, especially in the proposal articulated by Gates, went very far toward meeting Russia's position.
I am extremely skeptical about the very idea of missile defense. But in this case missile defense is not the issue - the issue is whether Russia and the United States can start working together on some project that they consider important. If it's missile defense, so be it. It does seem to be possible after all that two wrongs can make a right.