WASHINGTON – More than 40 Republicans in the House of Representatives on Wednesday wrote to President Barack Obama expressing anxiety over his "unilateral" approach to Moscow over possible plans for scrapping a US missile shield in Europe.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Obama had written a confidential letter to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev hinting that a US missile deal could be ditched if Moscow deters Iran from developing long-range arms.
Obama dismissed such a direct interpretation of his offer.
"It was simply a statement of fact that I've made previously, which is that the missile defense program, to the extent that it is deployed, is designed to deal with not a Russian threat but an Iranian threat."
But the Republicans, including House minority leader John Boehner, wrote to Obama Wednesday stressing they felt the new US administration "may be undertaking a surprisingly unilateral action."
"We believe it is unwise and premature to offer such a concession" to Moscow to abandon the missile shield program," they wrote.
"We urge you to clarify your administration's position and respectfully caution against a policy that relies too heavily on Russian cooperation."
They also warned that "the policy does not adequately recognize the threat posed by Iran," referring to Obama's reported offer to scrap the missile shield for Moscow's help on Tehran.
They stressed they "remain skeptical that Russia would be in a position to halt Iran?s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions," and that a retraction of the shield plan would weaken Washington's position in future bilateral negotiations.
It also "undermines NATO's endorsement of the European missile defense proposal," they said, adding that allies Poland and the Czech Republic would be assured of support and funding once they approved the defense agreements.
The United States has been negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic to install 10 missile interceptors -- which would not carry explosive warheads -- and a radar system on their territories to expand its shield into Europe.
The move has angered Russia as it sees the system as a threat to its security, while Washington argues that the shield is only directed at "rogue states," primarily Iran.
But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed hope in Brussels Wednesday that Russia would cooperate on missile defense, despite its hostility to the US plans to extend its system into Europe.
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