WASHINGTON, March 6 (Reuters) - The Obama administration disclosed on Tuesday that it is considering sharing some classified U.S. data as part of an effort to allay Russian concerns about a controversial antimissile shield.
The administration is continuing negotiations begun under former President George W. Bush on a defense technical cooperation agreement with Moscow that could include limited classified data, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Brad Roberts told a House of Representatives’ Armed Services subcommittee.
He gave no details on the sort of data that might be shared under such an agreement.
Russia strongly opposes the U.S.-engineered bulwark being built in and around Europe against ballistic missiles that could be fired by countries like Iran.
Moscow fears that such a shield could grow strong enough over time to undermine Moscow’s own nuclear deterrent force and has threatened to deploy missiles of its own as a counter.
“We’re not the first administration to seek coooperation on missile defense,” Roberts, who is responsible for nuclear and missile defense policy, told the subcommittee on strategic forces.
Nor is the administration the first “to believe that cooperation could be well-served by some limited sharing of classified information of a certain kind if the proper rules were in place to do that,” he said in reply to questions from Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican.
“The Bush administration headed down precisely the same path,” Roberts said.
“We’re making no progress” in persuading Russia to drop its opposition, despite the willingness to consider sharing certain sensitive data, he added.
The Obama administration is pursuing this cooperation because it would be in the security interests of the United States, NATO and Russia by strengthening the defensive capabilities of both NATO and Russia, Roberts said.
Under any such agreement, NATO would be responsible for the defense of its member states and Russia would be responsible for the defense of Russia, Roberts added in written testimony.
Army Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, the head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said he had no knowledge of any move to share with Moscow any classified information on the U.S. technology used to knock out target missiles.
“I never received a request to release classified information to the Russians,” he told the panel, testifying alongside Roberts.
Panel chairman Michael Turner said last November that he would oppose any Obama administration effort to provide Russia information on the so-called burnout velocity of Raytheon Co Standard Missile-3 interceptors, a key part of the layered defense.
“The House Armed Services Committee will vigorously resist such compromise of U.S. missile defense capabilities,” he said in a speech last November.
Republicans who control the panel will back legislation that would bar the administration from transferring classified missile defense technology to Russia as part of any negotiations or for any other purpose, a congressional staff member said.