US ran nuclear weapons exercises the week before Bush-Putin summit
Shortly before the so-called 'Lobster Summit' between President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Kennebunkport, Maine, the United States appears to have carried out a significant nuclear weapons exercise, according to a report in Friday's Washington Times.
"International radio operators picked up large numbers of coded Air Force communications being sent around the world on June 26 that indicated some type of military activity was about to take place," writes Bill Gertz in his weekly "Inside The Ring" column.
Gertz suggests that the transmissions, which he called 'extraordinary,' were related to US nuclear forces.
"A U.S. military official said the radio traffic was monitored from the Air Force Global High Frequency System (GHFS) that some observers regarded as 'extraordinary' because of the unprecedented length of messages," he writes. "The messages appeared to be emergency action messages, coded communications sent by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to U.S. Air Force strategic nuclear forces."
An Air Force spokesman said the operation was 'routine.'
The Bush-Putin summit in Maine started a week later, on Monday, July 2. US-Russian strategic nuclear relations were a subject of discussion, particularly the development of a replacement for verification rules established by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which is set to lapse in 2009.
Stephen Hadley, Bush's National Security Adviser, said on July 2 that the White House was expecting the START issue to be handled by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a Tuesday, July 3 meeting.
"There will be a document that will come out tomorrow, and the easiest thing to do is let that document come out," he said in a Monday press briefing. "They've got a document that the two -- the Foreign Minister and the Secretary of State will sign."
But there appeared to be little result from the Rice-Lavrov discussions in the area of strategic nuclear relations, with decisions deferred to the future.
"[The] Ministers discussed development of a post-START arrangement to provide continuity and predictability regarding strategic offensive forces. Upon instructions of the Presidents, the sides will continue these discussions with a view toward early results," both sides said in a carefully worded joint statement released on July 3.
Robert Joseph, the US Special Envoy on Nuclear Nonproliferation, acknowledged that agreement had been elusive on the aftermath of the START treaty.
"Now, as we haven't come to agreement on what will replace START, but we are in the process of talking about that," he said in a July 3 briefing. "We both want transparency. We both want confidence-building measures. We have talked about measures that would involve data exchanges and site visits. We have, I think, you know, a way to go in terms of our discussion, but we are actively working now that."
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Kislyak, made clear in the same briefing that Russia is eager to make progress on the question of verifying the reduction of strategic nuclear forces on both sides.
"We need to think what will come up after the treaty does expire, because we do not want this very important process to get lost or just to be discontinued," he said on Tuesday. "So the idea is that we will look into the treaty and the other ideas that are being fermented around the treaty and try to sort out what positive elements of this treaty should continue after it expires, and then we will build on that. That is the Russian concept."
US-Russian nuclear tensions have increased in recent months. Putin has made vocal statements about the ability of Russian nuclear forces to overcome any missile defense system devised by the United States. Russia has been particularly upset with the potential siting of interceptor missiles in Eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic or Poland.