C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000490
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/18/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM LH
SUBJECT: LITHUANIA CONCERNED ABOUT PERCEPTIONS OF PHASED,
REF: SECSTATE 96550
Classified By: Pol/Econ John Finkbeiner for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)
Â¶1. (C) We delivered reftel talking points to MFA's Head of
Transatlantic Cooperation and Security Policy Department
Director Gediminas Varvuolis and Strategic and Transatlantic
Relations Division Head Jonas Daniliauskas on September 17,
shortly before the President's announcement (we later
followed up with a copy of the President's remarks). We
emphasized that the new, "Phased, Adaptive Approach" is
simply a more modern approach to missile defense that is
better positioned to counter the threat posed by Iranian
missile capabilities. We also highlighted that land- and
sea-based missile defense interceptors offer some flexibility
to be redeployed as necessary in the region.
Â¶2. (C) Varvuolis initially expressed concern that the U.S.
would be perceived as having stepped away from the previous
U.S. plan (to deploy a ground based interceptor field in
Poland and a fixed radar in the Czech Republic) because of
Russian opposition. Nevertheless, he said the concept of
sea-based interceptors was of interest, particularly their
potential operation in the Baltic Sea. He seemed pleased
with proposed plans to develop interoperability with NATO
systems and noted that connectivity between U.S. national
systems and NATO systems has been an ongoing issue (until
recently Varvuolis was Lithuania's Deputy PermRep to NATO).
Â¶3. (C) In a meeting on September 18, APNSA-equivalent Darius
Semaska told the Charge that President Grybauskaite preferred
not to make public remarks about the new U.S. approach, and
noted that Foreign Minister Usackas planned to discuss the
decision with U.S. officials next week while he's at UNGA.
Later in the day, the Baltic News Service quoted Semaska as
saying "If the new package leads to more effective prevention
and defense, then we stand behind it. ...The President will
endorse all efforts to combat potential terrorism threats and
the spread of weapons of mass destruction with the most
effective of attainable measures. ...Technologies are
changing, thus the need to adapt plans and measures,
Â¶4. (U) Press coverage of the missile defense announcement
was largely negative, though reports of GOL reaction were
somewhat muted. Foreign Minister Usackas is quoted as saying
"The political message they're sending is not the best one."
In the same article Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene,
commenting on the previous plan to deploy missile defense
infrastructure in Poland and the Czech Republic, is quoted as
saying "We strongly supported the project because it would
have boosted our security. ...Information that was publicly
available suggests that Russia was the country that
particularly opposed the project. Naturally, many people
draw conclusions that this has to do with Russia." However,
both Usackas and Jukneviciene said they would withhold
further comment until they can discuss further with U.S.
officials. The Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament's
Foreign Affairs Committee Audronis Azubalis is quoted as
saying "...these actions simply reveal the attitude of the
new U.S. administration towards the Eastern European region."
A headline on BalticReports.com reads "Lithuanians Call
Aborted U.S. Missile Shield a Russian Victory."
Â¶5. (C) Comment. Although GOL officials have expressed some
concerns recently about possible U.S. disengagement from
Eastern Europe, their initial reaction to the President's
decision on missile defense indicates that they may warm to
the idea of a flexible approach. The GOL's initial concern
was more about the perception of the new approach than about
the new approach itself. Press attention is focused more on
the U.S. decision to abandon the ground-based interceptor /
fixed radar strategy than on the merits of the new Phased,
Adaptive Approach. Post will continue to emphasize the
benefits of the Phased, Adaptive Approach to enhance the
regional security infrastructure. End comment.