US senator lifts hold on ambassador to Russia
A key US senator lifted his hold Thursday on President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Moscow, paving the way for Michael McFaul's confirmation to the critical post.
Senator Mark Kirk had sought assurance the United States would not hand over classified information to Russia on the US missile defense system, which he feared Moscow would pass on to Iran, before withdrawing his block on the nomination.
"I lifted the hold," Kirk said, because "we saw the passage of the modified amendment as part of the new defense law that President Obama will likely sign as soon as this weekend."
A modified version of the "Brooks Amendment" in the defense bill heightened protection of classified US missile defense information "and increase congressional oversight and public debate over future administration attempts to provide such information to Russia," Kirk said.
The White House also wrote to Kirk this week to assure him the administration would "not provide Russia with sensitive information about our missile defense systems that would in any way compromise our national security."
Specifically the White House told Kirk that "under no circumstances" would the United States provide hit-to-kill technology and interceptor telemetry to Russia.
McFaul, who was Obama's chief Russia adviser on the National Security Council, was considered one of the architects of the so-called "reset" of Soviet-US relations that took place shortly after the president took office in early 2009.
Among key events in the warming of the two countries' relationship in recent years has been the signing and ratification of the new START treaty on nuclear disarmament, cooperation on sanctions against Iran and a strengthening of commercial relations.
Kirk's hold had threatened a vacant seat in the critical Moscow post, with the current US ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, leaving in the coming weeks.
© 2011 AFP