If President Barack Obama's administration wants to share sensitive data about U.S. missile defense systems with Russia, it now must at least tell Congress in advance, according to the final version of the defense authorization bill.
It was revealed in November that the Obama administration was considering sharing sensitive missile defense information with Russia in a bid to assure the Russians that U.S. missile defense capabilities in Europe were not a threat to their ballistic missile forces. For example, the United States reportedly offered to give Russia the details of the burnout velocity of the SM-3 interceptor missile, which would tell the Russians how far our interceptor missiles could chase their missiles.
The House version of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill banned any such sharing, but the conference report issued Monday evening softened that restriction. The final version of the legislation, which will land on Obama's desk later this week, requires that the administration give Congress 60 days notice before giving any classified missile defense information to the Russians. The defense bill is considered a "must pass" bill and Obama won't likely veto it over this provision.
The notification must include a detailed description of the information to be shared, an explanation for why such sharing is in the U.S. national security interest, an explanation of what the Russians are giving in return, and an explanation of how the administration can be sure the information won't be shared with third parties, such as Iran.
Of course, the future of U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation is unclear. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev seemed to announce the failure of the talks on Nov. 23, when he also announced a series of retaliatory measures to counter U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe and threatened to withdraw from the New START treaty. But the administration still insists that it plans to continue U.S.-Russian negotiations over how to work together on missile defense.
The concern on Capitol Hill is that the administration will give up valuable information before striking a deal, thereby undermining the effectiveness of U.S. missile defenses before they are even fully deployed.
"It's not at all clear that the Russians have any interest in so-called missile defense cooperation with the United States, but, assuming that the State Department or Defense Department propose to offer classified information to Russia on U.S. missile defenses, for the first time, they will have to tell Congress before they do so," a GOP congressional aide close to the issue told The Cable today. "Congress will have plenty of time to evaluate the proposal and raise objections as necessary."
Meanwhile, the top Russian official dealing with the issue, Russia's NATO Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin, has a new side job: accusing the United States of fomenting unrest in Russia. He gave a speech stoking fears of U.S. aggression against Russia at a rally this week for the ruling United Russia party. The demonstration was called to counter the protests that broke out last week in Moscow and elsewhere around the country after Russia's flawed parliamentary elections.
"There are forces today that consider Russia easy prey," Rogozin said. "They bombed Iraq. They destroyed Libya. They are approaching Syria. They stepped all over the people of Yugoslavia. And they are now thinking about Russia and are waiting for a moment when it is weak."
Rogozin, who got the red carpet treatment from the administration when he visited the United States in July, has also been keeping up his war of words on Twitter with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), whom he in July called a "monster of the Cold War," along with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
"My friend Kerk [sic] is relentless. He is now stifling Amb. Michael McFaul," Rogozin tweeted Dec. 4, linking to The Cable's article on Kirk's hold on McFaul's nomination to become ambassador to Russia. "With guys like Kerk US is pushing its way ahead."
The Senate voted late Monday to confirm Norm Eisen as ambassador the Czech Republic, but held up the stalled nomination of Maria Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador.
Both Eisen and Aponte are already serving at the posts under recess appointments that were due to expire at the end of this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for two cloture votes Monday night to get past Republican holds on the nominees. The Senate voted to overrule the hold on Eisen by a 70-16 vote, and he was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote shortly after. The Senate failed to override the hold on Aponte. The vote on proceeding to debate over her confirmation failed 49-37.
Republicans once again put politics above policy by blocking the confirmation
of a dedicated public servant," Reid said in a statement following the Aponte
vote. "In the fifteen months Mari Carmen Aponte has served as our ambassador to
El Salvador, she finalized an important international, anti-crime agreement and
forged a strong partnership between our nations. The Puerto Rican community and
all Americans are right to be proud of Ms. Aponte's accomplishments as a
diplomat representing our nation, as I am."
"I am disappointed Republicans continued a long-running trend of obstructing qualified nominees just to score political points. Unfortunately, defeating President [Barack] Obama is more important to Senate Republicans than confirming qualified nominees to represent our country in Latin America," said Reid.
There was broad GOP opposition to the Aponte confirmation, led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). It is unlikely Democrats will try to confirm her again before adjourning for the holiday break. There is also no sign yet that Senate Democratic leadership will try to bring up the confirmation of Matthew Bryza, whose recess appointment as ambassador to Azerbaijan is about to expire, or the confirmation of Mike McFaul, whose nomination to be ambassador to Russia is being held up by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable Tuesday morning that he would try to move more nominations this week but he didn't have any specifics.
The Senate will debate and vote on two controversial State Department nominations next week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced.
On Dec. 13, the Senate will debate and vote on whether to consider the nominations of Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador and Norm Eisen to be ambassador to the Czech Republic. Both are sitting ambassadors who were sent to their posts under recess appointments that expire at the end of the year.
"There will be at least two roll call votes at 5:30 p.m. in relation to the Eisen and Aponte nominations," Reid said on the Senate floor on Thursday night. The votes will be to move on to debating the nominations, not on the nominations themselves. If both votes surpass the 60 senator threshold necessary to achieve cloture, both ambassadors could be formally confirmed by the end of next week.
Reid indicated, but didn't say outright, that there could be more nominations moving next week as well. If the Senate doesn't act this month, the recess appointment of Matthew Bryza to be ambassador to Azerbaijan will expire and he will have to come home.
The nomination of NSC Senior Director Mike McFaul to become ambassador to Russia is also stalled due to a hold by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who wants assurances from the administration it will not give sensitive missile defense data to the Russian Federation.
Reid is personally committed to the Aponte nomination, a Senate Democratic aide told The Cable today.
"Reid's a big fan of hers and he doesn't think her nomination should be a Democratic or Republican issue," the aide said. "He thinks her accomplishments in the past should be proof enough that she's qualified for the position. She's done a lot of work to strengthen U.S. ties with Latin America."
Aponte's nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was initially held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who allegedly had ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation at the time.
DeMint shows no signs of backing down, and Aponte was barely approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.
Eisen was sent to Prague through a recess appointment because of objections by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO). Grassley is still upset over the June 2009 removal of Gerald Walpin as Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a position where he oversaw government programs such as AmeriCorps.
Eisen, the former White House ethics czar, was a key figure in the controversy and defended the White House's actions. He also made the case to Congress that Walpin was unfit for his position, writing in a letter to senators shortly after the sacking that Walpin "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve." Walpin called those allegations "absolutely amazing."
Grassley, along with Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), has never dropped the issue of Walpin's firing. Grassley's staffers contributed heavily to a joint House-Senate report released last November, which they say alleged not only that Walpin's firing was handled improperly but also that Eisen misled Congress about the matter.
UPDATE: Reid issued the following statement on the Aponte nomination late Friday afternoon:
Mari Carmen Aponte's accomplished record as our nation's current ambassador to El Salvador should be reason enough for the Senate to confirm her on Monday. In 15 months serving our country, Ms. Aponte has already brokered an important transnational, anti-crime agreement and has strengthened our ties with El Salvador. Experts on the region from across the political spectrum support her confirmation. The Puerto Rican community and all Americans are right to be proud of Ms. Aponte's accomplishments as a diplomat representing our nation, as I am.
Unfortunately, a handful of extreme Republicans are threatening to block her nomination just to score political points. I hope Senate Republicans will put politics aside, and do the right thing for our foreign policy by voting to confirm Ms. Aponte.
The Obama administration keeps on naming new ambassadors, but several key State Department nominees remain stalled in the Senate.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Joseph Macmanus to be U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), William Todd to be ambassador to Cambodia, Jonathan Farrar to be ambassador to Panama, and Phyllis Powers to be ambassador to Nicaragua.
Macmanus, who is now principal deputy assistant secretary of state (PDAS) for legislative affairs, replaces Glyn Davies, the new special coordinator for North Korea policy. Previously, Macmanus has served as the executive assistant to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.
Todd, who spent the last year in the U.S. embassy in Kabul coordinating development and economic affairs, was previously the U.S. ambassador to Brunei. Joe Donovan, the recently departed PDAS for East Asian and Pacific affairs, had been rumored to be in line for the Cambodia post -- a consolation prize after he was considered as U.S. ambassador to Seoul but then was not selected. Inside South Korea, there was some criticism of Donovan's relatively low profile compared to other U.S. ambassadors in East Asia.
The Obama administration eventually picked Sung Kim as the U.S. envoy to Seoul and he's been welcomed warmly by the South Koreans as he's the first Korean-American to hold the post. Donovan is now working at the National Defense University. We're told that Tokyo Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Zumwalt is expected to return to Washington as the new deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, although nothing has been formally announced.
Meanwhile, several State Department nominations remained stalled in the Senate due to various objections by GOP senators. The Cable has confirmed that Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) placed a hold Thursday on the nomination of National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul, who has been nominated as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia. Kirk and McFaul met on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Apparently, the meeting did not go well.
Kirk told the Associated Press on Thursday that "he wants written assurances that the United States will not provide Russia with any currently classified information on the missile defense system."
Other State Department nominations currently facing GOP Senate opposition include the nominations of Norm Eisen to be ambassador to the Czech Republic, Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador, and Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Eisen and Aponte are currently serving in their posts under recess appointment that expire at the end of this month.
Mari Carmen Aponte is currently serving as the U.S ambassador to El Salvador, but she might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year, as her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans.
Aponte's initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus. She wasn't confirmed, but Obama sent her to El Salvador via a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year.
At today's business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Aponte's nomination was narrowly approved by 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.
"This nomination needs a vote by the end of the year otherwise we won't have an ambassador in El Salvador," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) at the meeting. Other senators that spoke up for Aponte included chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).
Menendez and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) were initially the only senators allowed to review Aponte's FBI file, but DeMint eventually got permission to view the file. He said at today's meeting that the file was incomplete and that it hadn't been updated since 1998. He asked for a closed hearing on Aponte, but Kerry said that was not an option.
"She has done a solid job as ambassador," Kerry said today, pointing out that under Aponte's tenure, El Salvador became the first Latin American country to send troops to aid NATO forces in Afghanistan. He asked at the hearing for DeMint to work with him to move the nomination but the other GOP committee members backed up DeMint's objection.
"There are legitimate questions about Miss Aponte," DeMint said, arguing that his concerns were not limited to her relationship with Tamayo. "This is not a witch hunt."
Durbin pointed out that, since 1998, when Aponte withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, she has twice received Top Secret security clearances. "Obviously, many tough questions have been asked and answered," Durbin said, arguing that Aponte's personal background was no longer an issue.
DeMint alleged that political people in the Obama administration overruled intelligence officials in granting Aponte security clearances, but he offered no evidence of that in the public business meeting.
Boxer said she suspected DeMint's problems with Aponte stemmed from a June 2011 op-ed that Aponte wrote in a Salvadorian newspaper promoting tolerance and acceptance of people in the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community.
"Ms. Aponte's decision to publish an opinion piece hostile to the culture of El Salvadorans, presents even more doubts about her fitness for the job," DeMint wrote in a response on the Human Events conservative news and opinion website. "The Senate should reject her nomination when her recess appointment expires at the end of this Congress and force the president to appoint a new nominee who will respect the pro-family values upheld by the people of El Salvador."
But Durbin said at today's business meeting that Aponte was simply following a State Department cable sent to all diplomatic posts that they publish op-eds in support of LGBT awareness month.
Regardless, Aponte's re-nomination bid seems to be in serious trouble.
Meanwhile, SFRC approved the nominations of Mike McFaul to become ambassador to Russia and Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Two Republicans voted against the McFaul nomination: Bob Corker (R-TN) and James Risch (R-ID).
Corker didn't object to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but rather used the nomination to press for administration assurances that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which includes the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, will be fully funded for Fiscal Year 2012. He told The Cable today that he was working with the administration on the issue.
"I just want to see the administration work with us to follow through on commitments made to us last December," said Corker.
Risch, however, is one of several GOP senators who want to use the McFaul nomination as leverage to press the administration to hand over information on various aspects of the U.S.-Russia relationship, such as the details of missile defense cooperation discussions with Russia. It's not clear whether the administration is willing to give those senators enough information to facilitate the McFaul nomination.
The McFaul nomination is now headed to the senate floor, where several GOP senators not on the committee are expected to voice objections. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is expected to place a formal hold on the McFaul nomination due to ongoing concerns on the lack of disclosure of documents related to U.S. missile defense cooperation and questions as to whether the administration will be sharing classified missile defense data with the Russian Federation, a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable.
As for Jacobson, only one senator, Marco Rubio (R-FL) objected to the nomination. He said at the meeting that he was concerned with the Obama administration's overall policy in Latin America and that he would hold all related nominees until the administration engages with him more directly on these issues.
SFRC was also supposed to bring up a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on the Libya war, but that resolution was not offered at today's meeting and no explanation was given as to why it has disappeared.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) approval of Mike McFaul's nomination to become U.S. ambassador to Russia was delayed on Tuesday by GOP senators, but today several Republicans are coming to McFaul's aid.
A group of former GOP national security officials wrote to SFRC leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) today to express their support for the McFaul nomination, which is now facing objections from one SFRC member now and with multiple other GOP senators ready to follow suit, who will make their concerns known if and when McFaul is voted out of committee. In fact, the entire SFRC business meeting was cancelled on Tuesday amid the confusion. It was rescheduled for Nov. 29, when McFaul's nomination will finally be put before the panel.
"We have known and worked closely with Mike for many years and have the highest regard for his professionalism and his dedication to American interests and ideals. He is one of America's leading experts on democracy and has been a tireless promoter of democracy in Russia and elsewhere around the world," wrote former Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, former Assistant Secretaries of State David Merkel and Stephen Rademaker, former NSC Director Jamie Fly, Freedom House President David Kramer, former Rumsfeld and McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann, and the Brookings Institution fellow Robert Kagan.
McFaul, who is a key architect of the Obama "reset" policy with Russia that many conservatives dislike, also has a long track record of advocating for democracy and human rights and is well positioned to press those issues in Moscow, the former officials wrote.
"His nomination has been enthusiastically supported by leading figures in the Russian political opposition. His presence there will provide a strong voice for democracy and freedom in that country and provide an open door and sympathetic ear to all elements of Russian society."
As we reported on Tuesday, the only official objection to McFaul's nomination so far is from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker isn't objecting to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but is using the nomination to press for administration assurances that the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee will be fully funded for fiscal year 2012.
"Senator Corker is working to ensure that the U.S. funds the necessary modernization of our nuclear weapons and complex as outlined by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to ensure the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent," Corker's communications director Laura Herzog told The Cable today.
Several GOP Senate offices have told The Cable that other senators want to use the McFaul nomination as leverage over the administration on a host of issues, including the current U.S.-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation, Russia's poor record on human rights, its continued occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and a perceived lack of Russian cooperation on key international issues such as confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.
For a great example of those concerns, take a look at this extensive list of questions submitted to McFaul by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), obtained by The Cable.
"The administration cannot merely wish these problems away. However, it is also in the nation's interest to get Mr. McFaul to Moscow as quickly as possible," the former officials wrote to Kerry and Lugar. "We hope the Senate and the administration will disentangle these issues so that the full Senate can approve his nomination expeditiously."
Some GOP offices are seeking more administration support for the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison exactly two years ago today. Republicans want passage of the Magnitsky bill to be the cost of repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which prevents Russia from getting Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. The administration is avoiding linking Magnitsky to this trade status, and is proposing a fund to support a new democracy and human rights foundation in Russia instead. Republicans are cool on that idea.
Today, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement criticizing Russia for not moving faster to bringing Magnitsky's killers to justice.
"Despite widely-publicized credible evidence of criminal conduct in Magnitsky's case, Russian authorities have failed to bring to justice those responsible," Toner said. "While we welcome charges against two prison officials, we will continue to call for full accountability for those responsible for Magnitsky's unjust imprisonment and wrongful death. We will continue to fully support the efforts of those in Russia who seek to bring these individuals to justice."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has delayed consideration of Michael McFaul to become the next U.S. ambassador to Russia due to objections by U.S. senators that aren't related to his personal qualifications for the position.
Two Senate sources confirmed to The Cable that the committee decided Monday not to consider the nomination of McFaul, the current National Security Council senior director for Russia, at today's committee business meeting as had been planned. In fact, early Tuesday afternoon the entire meeting was cancelled due to the McFaul objection as well as separate objections on the nominations of Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador. A planned resolution giving the sense of the Senate on Libya also faced criticism, our two Senate sources said.
"Today's business meeting has been postponed due to last-minute requests to holdover several of the agenda items," SFRC spokeswoman Jennifer Berlin told The Cable.
For McFaul, two staffers have confirmed that the objection is coming from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker isn't objecting to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but is using the nomination to press for administration assurances that the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee will be fully funded for fiscal year 2012. Corker also wants assurances over funding for nuclear warhead life-extension programs, which were part of the deal the administration struck with Congress during the debate over the New START nuclear reductions agreement with Russia.
Other GOP senators want to use the McFaul nomination to press the administration on a host of issues, including the current U.S.-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation, Russia's poor record on human rights, its continued occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and a perceived lack of Russian cooperation on key international issues, such as confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.
"Objections have been raised by enough Republicans to warrant holding [McFaul] over until the next business meeting. Likely, strong concerns over administration negotiations with Moscow over missile defense play a large role in taking him off the business meeting agenda," one Senate Republican committee staffer said. "It may be the case Mr. McFaul is not confirmed, given the weight of these concerns."
Another staffer for a committee member said today that further objections to McFaul's nomination would probably come during floor consideration, because they would be raised by Republicans not on the committee. The objections have little to do with McFaul himself, who is generally liked and well-respected by the GOP, in part due to his decades of activism on democracy and human rights.
"He's about as good of a nominee as Republicans can expect from this administration, but there is a huge gap between the administration and the GOP about how the ‘reset' with Russia is going," said this staffer. "Republicans will use his nomination to air their concerns about a range of issues. That's just how it is."
The committee will likely have only one more business meeting this year, and it is unclear whether the administration will get McFaul a hearing on the next agenda.
Meanwhile, the State Department, aware of the potential problems with the McFaul nomination, sent around a fact sheet yesterday to Senate offices, which was obtained by The Cable, seeking to assuage senators' concerns about U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation discussions. One GOP Senate aide reacted to the fact sheet by telling The Cable, "If the administration thinks this is what constitutes giving Congress access to information about the negotiations, they are sorely mistaken."
Some GOP offices also wanted Kerry to add a bill to penalize Russia for its treatment of human rights lawyers and activists to today's business meeting agenda. The legislation, called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets his captors, as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."
Republicans want passage of the Magnitsky bill to be the cost of repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which currently prevents Russia from getting Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. Without PNTR, U.S. businesses will be disadvantaged when Russia joins the WTO later this year. The administration is avoiding linking Magnitsky to this trade status, and is proposing a fund to support a new democracy and human rights foundation in Russia instead. Republicans are cool on that idea.
Meanwhile, we've confirmed that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is objecting to the Jacobson nomination, and we're told that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is holding up the Aponte nomination.
Mike McFaul, the National Security Council senior director for Russia, will testify before senators this afternoon and say that that the Obama administration's "reset" policy with Russia is working and that Congress must terminate an antiquated law that prevents full and normalized trade relations with Moscow.
McFaul is nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow. Although several GOP senators have serious concerns about the reset policy and are critical of what they see as Obama's concessions to Russia, McFaul is expected to be confirmed. In his testimony this afternoon before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he will argue for the repeal of what's known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a 1974 legal provision that punished the Soviet Union for restricting Jewish emigration, and which continues to prevent the United States from granting Russia permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status.
"In order for U.S. businesses, farmers and workers to receive the maximum benefit from Russia's WTO accession ... we will need to give the same unconditional permanent normal trading relations treatment to Russia's goods that we provide to those of all other WTO members," McFaul will say in his opening statement, obtained in advance by The Cable. "That commitment requires us to terminate the application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and extend permanent normal trading relations to Russia."
WTO membership for Russia is a key goal of Obama's reset policy and the administration has been working hard behind the scenes to help Moscow finalize its bid. But several senior Republican lawmakers want to keep Jackson-Vanik in place to keep the pressure on Russia and prevent further backsliding on democratization, human rights, and respect for the rule of law.
McFaul will testify that the administration wants to terminate Jackson-Vanik before Russia joins WTO. Russia could win membership as early as December, if they are able to strike a deal with Georgia. The WTO typically only accepts new members by consensus. The agreement between the two nations would likely have to do with international customs monitoring along the Russia-Georgia border, which is currently run by the Russian military. The Obama administration said it's not involved in the Russia-Georgia negotiations, but at other times officials have admitted that it is.
Either way, it's unclear how the administration plans to convince intransigent GOP leaders, such as House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), to abandon their opposition to granting Russia PNTR status, much less before December.
But the Obama administration has decided to make the termination of Jackson-Vanik a jobs issue, thus placing the GOP in the position of being against American workers.
"Four decades after Jackson-Vanik was passed, a vote to grant Russia PNTR is a vote to help our economy and create jobs," McFaul will say. "At a time when we need to increase exports to preserve and create American jobs, we cannot afford to put our farmers, manufacturers, and workers at a disadvantage when competing against other WTO members for market share in Russia."
Support in both parties is strong for McFaul's ambassador nomination, despite that he is a key architect of the reset policy that many Republicans oppose. McFaul has a long track record as a democracy advocate, and unlike most other top administration officials, he has maintained close and longstanding relationships with leaders on the GOP side of the aisle.
McFaul often engages with a wide range of people in the broader policy community, meets with administration critics and even meets with representatives from countries he doesn't cover, such as European officials who have an interest in U.S.-Russia relations.
McFaul's attitude and relationships have bought him a measure of credibility and support from the GOP. Several typically hawkish Russia experts have been lobbying GOP senators on behalf of McFaul's nomination. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), had threatened to hold the nomination, but now that hold is not expected to materialize.
"People have a lot of respect for Mike. Everybody knows that is a very passionate supporter of democracy," said Bob Kagan, a Brookings Institution scholar who co-authored a Washington Post op-ed in support of the nomination with Freedom House's David Kramer. "He's got a long reputation, good contacts, and he's part of a larger pro-democracy community, so the opposition in Russia will feel like it has somebody they can talk to, which isn't always the case."
Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN) have started a new congressional caucus to increase engagement with Russia and to push for action to promote Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Meeks and Burton, the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, started the Congressional Russia Caucus last month after returning from a trip to Moscow. They are the only two members of the caucus, just yet, but they're canvassing for new members now. They plan to build connections with Russian officials, increase legislative exchanges with the Russian Duma, and advocate for the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a 1974 U.S. law that prevents the United States from granting Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status.
"When you think about Russia, they are an important nation in an important part of the world. And we have to make sure we begin to work with them in a post-Cold War way," Meeks told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
Meeks said he has been coordinating with the Obama administration, which is supporting Russia's WTO bid as part of its overall effort to reset relations with Russia.
"The administration was very appreciative of us starting this caucus; they thought it was a good idea. They said they looked forward to working with us," Meeks said.
Both Meeks and Burton said they were encouraged to start the caucus after meeting with American businessmen and members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. Both denied they had benefited financially as a result of their efforts on behalf of the U.S.-Russia relationship.
"We want to engage Russians on economics and trade affairs," Burton said in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Regarding the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, Burton said, "That's something that the Congress has to do for the U.S. to get all the benefits of Russia joining the WTO. If that doesn't happen, Russia would be entitled to all its benefits [as a WTO member] but the U.S. would be disadvantaged."
Russia's accession to the WTO and the repeal of Jackson-Vanik "would be good for Russia and the world," Burton said.
Burton's position on Russian accession to the WTO and Jackson-Vanik puts him in direct opposition to his own committee chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said in July that repeal of Jackson-Vanik was impossible. And she's no fan of Russia's once-and-future president, Vladimir Putin.
"Putin's present-day Russia is taking on a more Stalin-era appearance every day," Ros-Lehtinen said in July. "The administration must end its string of concessions to the regime in Moscow, which have not resulted in increased cooperation with the U.S. or an improvement in Russia's human rights record."
Meeks and Burton both also said that they could use the caucus to press Russia toward more progress on democratization, human rights, and respect for the rule of law.
"We do care about those things. What we're going to do is open a dialogue on all these things so we can move in the right direction," Burton said.
Russia has threatened the Obama administration that it will end cooperation on Iran and prevent the transfer of material to Afghanistan if Congress passes a law criticizing Russian human rights practices.
The White House argues that the U.S.-Russian "reset" of relations has had three positive results: the New START nuclear reductions treaty, Moscow's cooperation in sanctioning Iran, and approval (for a price) for U.S. military goods to transit Russian territory on the way to Afghanistan. But Russia is now using two of those three points as leverage to pressure the administration to get Congress not to pass a bill that would ban visas for Russian officials implicated in human rights crimes.
The legislation, called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets his captors, as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."
The administration admitted the Russian threats in its official comments on the bill, obtained by the The Cable.
"Senior Russian government officials have warned us that they will respond asymmetrically if legislation passes," the document stated. "Their argument is that we cannot expect them to be our partner in supporting sanctions against countries like Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and sanction them at the same time. Russian officials have said that other areas of bilateral cooperation, including on transit Afghanistan, could be jeopardized if this legislation passes."
"The Russian Duma has already proposed legislation that would institute similar travel bans and asset freezes for U.S. officials whose actions Russia deems in violations of the rights of Russian citizens arrested abroad and brought to the United States for trial," the administration said. "We have no way to judge the scope of these actions, but note that other U.S. national security interests will be affected by the passage of the S. 1039."
The Washington Post first reported the existence of the administration's comments today and led with the news that the State Department has quietly put Russian officials connected with the Magnitsky killing on a visa blacklist.
The blacklist appears to be a way for the administration to preempt further legislation. "Secretary Clinton has taken steps to ban individuals associated with the wrongful death of Sergey Magnitskiy from traveling to the United States. The Administration, therefore, does not see the need for this additional legislation," the administration said in its comments.
But in fact, the current bill no longer just includes officials connected to the Magnitsky case. The Senate version of the bill includes officials connected to a range of human rights cases in Russia, including the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an imprisoned Russian dissident.
The main sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), said in an interview today with The Cable that he was now working to address the administration's concerns and he was not sure when the bill would see a committee markup or floor consideration.
"I'm working with the administration, working with the committee, and working with my fellow senators to determine how to proceed," he said. "Two things can change strategy: One is what happens in Russia, one is what happens in the State Department. Both are fluid at this point."
Meanwhile, the administration has another problem with the reset -- it must find a way to get Congress to repeal the 1974 "Jackson-Vanik" law, which was imposed to penalize the Soviet Union for its treatment of Jewish emigrants. That law stands in the way of designating Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, which is part of Moscow's bid to join the WTO.
NSC Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul, the administration's nominee for ambassador to Moscow, told The New Republic last month that he was open to the idea of some new law to pressure Russia on human rights as a replacement for Jackson-Vanik.
"Jackson-Vanik is an outdated mechanism," he said. "Let's have an updated mechanism that is more appropriate for 2011."
It's extremely doubtful that the GOP-led House would grant Russia PNTR status no matter what, meaning that the Magnitsky Act's value as a bargaining chip may be minimal. Either way, it's clear that the Obama administration places great value on maintaining the gains of the reset and doesn't want anything to get in the way.
"One of the core foreign policy objectives when we came into office was the Russia reset," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters in May."It has been one of the most productive relationships for the United States."
Senior Obama administration officials have been saying for months that the United States would not get involved in the Russian-Georgian dispute over Russia's desire to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Today, it was revealed that the administration, including President Barack Obama, has been deeply involved in the dispute for a long time.
Russian accession to the WTO is a major goal of the Obama administration's "reset" policy with Russia. However, the country of Georgia, a WTO member that has longstanding grievances with its larger northern neighbor, stands in the way because new members must be admitted by consensus. Russian troops have occupied the Georgian breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, and Georgia wants concessions on customs and border administration before it agrees to allow Russian to join the WTO.
Russia and Georgia began meeting in February in Switzerland to work out a deal. In March, National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul said that while it's a fact that Russia cannot join the WTO unless Georgia agreed, he insisted that the United States would not try to mediate between the two countries.
"There is a process underway [to resolve the outstanding trade issues]. I don't want to prejudge it because we're not involved in it," he said. "At the end of the day this is a bilateral issue, not a trilateral issue."
Skip forward to today, when Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in France. A senior White House official told ABC News after the meeting that Obama has "personally been engaged in" the issue for months, and actually set up the Swiss negotiations and convinced both the Russian and Georgian leaders to attend.
The senior official also compared the Georgians to the Palestinians, saying that, with regard to Georgia's desire to end the Russian occupation, "[T]he WTO is not the forum in which to resolve this... like the Palestinians pursuing the vote at the U.N."
"We think that Russian accession to the WTO will be good for the Russian economy, will be good for the U.S. economy, it will be good for the world economy," Obama said today. "And we are confident that we can get this done."
There are also signs that senior administration officials have placed pressure on Georgia to make a deal. A senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, while briefing senators before a recent congressional trip that included a stop in Georgia, asked those senators to pressure Georgia to move toward acceptance of Russia's membership in the WTO.
"It was odd to hear Ambassador Kirk behind closed doors urging a group of senators to pressure Georgia to 'be reasonable' while, we understood, the administration was saying publicly it would stay out of a Georgia-Russia issue," the aide said.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in a March interview with The Cable, said that the Russians were expecting the Obama administration to pressure Georgia into backing down, but that U.S. objectivity in the matter was key to getting it resolved.
"[The Russians] were telling the Americans that we will make a deal with you and Georgia comes as part of the package. I heard some Russians say that it just takes one call from Vice President [Joseph] Biden to Saakashvili to convince him and make him shut up. "But it's not like this and the Americans know it's not like this," Saakashvili said.
"Some Russians were saying ‘we'll let back in your wine and you will change your position.'" Saakashvili said. "We don't have any wine left to sell to the Russians. That's not the bargaining chip. We need transparency of border transactions and customs issues. That's where we need to find mutually acceptable solutions with the Russians."
President Barack Obama is set to meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvdev on May 26 in France on the sidelines of the G-8 meetings. In advance of that meeting, Congress has unveiled a new bill to force the administration to sanction Russian officials for human rights violations.
"One of the core foreign policy objectives when we came into office was the Russia reset," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call on Friday. "It has been one of the most productive relationships for the United States in terms of the signing and ratification of the New START treaty, cooperation on nuclear security, cooperation with regard to Iran sanctions and nonproliferation generally, the northern distribution network into Afghanistan that supports our effort there, and our discussions with Russia about expanding trade ties and their interest in joining the WTO, as well as Russia's increased cooperation with NATO that was manifested by the NATO-Russia meetings in Lisbon."
But Rhodes didn't mention what most in Congress see as Russia's backsliding on issues of democracy, freedom of the press, and human rights. A large group of senators introduced a bill on Thursday afternoon that they hope will force the administration to address this issue. Called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, it is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets his captors as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."
"Despite occasional rhetoric from the Kremlin, the Russian leadership has failed to follow through with any meaningful action to stem rampant corruption or bring the perpetrators of numerous and high-profile human rights abuses to justice," Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said in a Thursday floor statement announcing the bill.
"My legislation simply says that if you are commit gross violations of human rights, don't expect to visit Disneyland, Aspen, or South Beach and expect your accounts to be frozen if you bank with us."
The bill requires the secretary of State to compile a list of names of human rights abusers in Russia, deny them visas, and requires the secretary of Treasury to do the same and freeze their bank accounts. The legislation would also bar their wives, sons, daughters, and other immediate family members from coming to the United States. The hope is that this legislation would spur similar action from the European Union.
The bill also outlines abuses by Russian officials in the treatment of several other Russian political prisoners, including Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose appeal to his 14-year jail sentence was postponed this week by a Moscow court.
Other co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tom Udall (D-NM), Roger Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).
Last month, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) reintroduced the House version of The Magnitsky Act, which "imposes visa and economic sanctions on Russian state officials who are responsible for human rights abuses, torture and the death in custody of Sergei Magnitsky in November 2009."
The Obama administration hasn't commented publicly on the bill, but The New Republic reported that NSC Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul is supportive. "We actually agree with those in Congress who are concerned about the erosion of democracy in Russia," he told TNR, adding, "It was bad when we got here, but it is bad today."
The bill could also be a substitute for the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was put in place in the 1970s to punish Russia for its treatment of Jewish would-be emigrants, but now stands in the way of Russia's accession to the WTO.
Kirk told The Cable in a Friday interview that this bill was one part of a larger effort in Congress to reassert itself on the issues of democracy and human rights in Russia.
"It's needed because Russia has slowly devolved into a one party state with a very strong ruler, and that leads to arrogance and a very aggressive anti-U.S. foreign policy, which is becoming increasing difficult to deal with," he said. And who was he referring to? "The real ruler of Russia: Putin."
When President Barack Obama stops in Poland on May 27 during his visit to Europe next week, the Poles and their friends in Congress will be watching closely to see if the president will fulfill his pledge to make progress on their most valued issue -- Poland's drive to join the State Department's Visa Waiver Program.
Poland, which is the only member of the 25-country "Schengen area" whose citizens are not able to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa in advance, has been petitioning the administration to let it in the program for a long time. After neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, and Latvia entered the program, the Poles finally got a pledge from the Obama administration that it would work with Congress to make it happen.
"I am going to make this a priority," Obama said on Dec. 8, sitting alongside Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. "And I want to solve this issue before very long. My expectation is, is that this problem will be solved during my presidency."
But now, more than five months later, Poland's advocates on Capitol Hill say they've seen no movement from the administration on the issue and are calling on Obama to announce his plan to get it done when he arrives in Poland.
"It's a campaign promise, it's the number one issue right now in U.S.-Polish relations. The president should come through on his campaign commitment to Polish-Americans that he was going to do this," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said in a Friday interview with The Cable.
"This would also help repair damaged relations with Poland, especially after the disastrous missile defense decision announced on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland [in 2009]," Kirk said. That was when the administration decided to alter plans to station interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of a different approach.
Kirk took over Senate leadership on this issue following the retirement of Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who actually offered to trade his vote on the New START treaty with Russia for the Polish visa waiver program entry last year. Kirk hails from Illinois, which has the largest Polish population outside of Poland, he brags.
On April 26, Kirk sent a letter to Obama to announce his support for the congressional legislation that would pave the way for Poland to enter the program. Other lawmakers who signed the letter were the bill's spokesperson Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Mike Quigley (D - IL), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D -IL), and Brian Higgins (D -NY).
On a conference call Friday morning, The Cable asked Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes what progress the president would announce on this issue when he gets to Poland.
"We believe we've made some progress and we'll have more to say, I think, about this when we're in Poland. The president will be able to specifically outline the steps that we've taken and the roadmap that we see. We're following through on our commitment to be responsive to Polish concerns," said Rhodes.
We pressed Rhodes on Obama's promise to get it done "during my presidency," which could mean 2012 or 2016, depending on which side of the aisle you talk to. But Rhodes didn't have any specifics.
"[The president's] working to follow through on that precise commitment that you referenced, and we'll be discussing this in Warsaw and have more to say there," he said.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for the president on the 27th. And if he flubs it, then he flubs it," said Kirk. "We'll see."
A group of Georgians was fired upon on Wednesday at the boundary line between Georgia and the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, the first clash there since March 2009. The details of the melee are disputed by the two sides.
A top Georgian official told The Cable that about 15 civilians were roaming around the forest near the boundary line collecting food when uniformed troops, whom he claimed were Russian soldiers, opened fire when the Georgians attempted to flee. The official said that two citizens were wounded and four civilians were arrested during the incident. One 17-year-old boy was shot in the stomach and is in serious condition. An older man was lightly wounded. The rest of the party managed to escape.
"There is a plant that is used as food and 15 people went to gather that plant in the forest, from age 12 to age 30. They came across a Russian border patrol and the Russians asked them to surrender," Shota Utiashvili, spokesman for Georgia's Interior Ministry, told The Cable in a phone interview from Tbilisi. "That's in contradiction with the agreement that we have with Russia, which states that they should be warned and released, not detained and shot at."
The security service of the South Ossetian administrative body disputed the Georgian account, claiming that the guards were South Ossetian, not Russian -- and that the 15 civilians in question were, in fact, armed.
"At the time of the arrest unidentified persons opened fire at the South Ossetian border guards with a goal to free detained persons. A response fire was opened, as a result attackers scattered and hid on the territory of Georgia," they said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi is preparing to issue the following statement, obtained in advance by The Cable:
"The United States embassy is concerned by reports of a violent incident along the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region. We urge all parties to exercise restraint in the wake of the incident, to share fully all details with the European Union Monitoring Mission and to participate as soon as possible in an ad hoc meeting of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism. This incident highlights the ongoing need for EUMM access to both sides of the administrative boundary line."
The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) does not currently have access to those arrested and is not able to travel into South Ossetia; it has not issued a statement at this time.
For the Georgians, the incident highlights the problem of the regional status quo, whereby Russia maintains de facto control of the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but doesn't have diplomatic or legal responsibilities there.
"The Russians say ‘we have nothing to do with this, this is the independent South Ossetian government.' But this is a typical thing, they can always hide behind the so-called South Ossetian state," Utiashvili said.
"We need a more concerted Western effort, that's the only way to avoid more escalation and more violence. What's important is that the Russians see that these things don't go unnoticed."
Back in Washington, several U.S. senators are trying to push for greater U.S. involvement in the Russian-Georgian dispute over the territories. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has been warning through reports about the de facto U.S. ban on selling arms to Georgia and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate "that it is the policy of the United States to support the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Georgia and the inviolability of its borders, and to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as regions of Georgia occupied by the Russian Federation."
In an interview with The Cable, Shaheen said she would continue to push for U.S. involvement in mediating the conflict as well as more defense cooperation between the United States and Georgia.
"Georgia is an important ally in a tough neighborhood. The United States should continue to strongly support Georgia's sovereignty, to support non-military efforts to restore Georgia's territorial integrity, to reject any claims of spheres of influence in the region, and emphasize that all nations should be free to enter into alliances and relationships as they see fit," she said. "A prosperous, stable and secure Caucasus region is in all of our interests -- including those of Georgia, Russia, and the United States."
UPDATE: Sen. Shaheen mentioned our story and the incident at Wednesday afternoon's hearing with Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon. In his response, Gordon criticized Russian activity in the disputed territories and called for Russia to live up to its related international commitments.
"It is precisely this sort of incident that happened today that underscores why we are so concerned about the unresolved situation in Georgia. You are right to underscore in your resolution and just now Russia's lack of full compliance with the 2008 ceasefire," Gordon said. "Our strong view, like that of pretty much every country in the world, is to recognize Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the Russian military presence there, about which the Russians are not fully transparent, is a problem and can lead to just the sort of incident you mentioned, as can the lack of international observation, which is something we have pushed for for a long time."
Lt. Gen. John Allen is set to take over command of the war in Afghanistan when Gen. David Petraeus becomes CIA director in September. The battle against the Taliban remains the centerpiece in the Afghanistan effort, but the development mission -- the world's largest and most challenging -will also be a focus for Allen.
In a long interview with USAID's Frontline magazine, Allen talked about the development challenges in Afghanistan and recounted his experiences working with development professionals in the Mediterranean in the 1970s, running the task force that led the U.S. government response to the Asian tsunami of 2004-2005, and coordinating development projects in Iraq during the surge from 2006 to 2008. He promised to push for increased cooperation between soldiers and aid workers and fight for USAID's continued support from the military and Congress.
Here are some excerpts:
On the challenges in the military-civilian relationship in a warzone:
It's largely in the sequencing. Ten years ago, I'd have said it was cultural. Not today. Yes, the development and military cultures are inherently different, but after a decade of war, where our paths in many ways are now inextricably linked, our institutional cultures are largely in harmony and we draw strength from the relationship. This includes development NGOs as well.... When the development and military entities are closely tied together in planning and execution --"within the hearing of the guns" -- we have all the ingredients for success. While there remains room for improvement, we're far more advanced and effective in this relationship than we were just 10 years ago.
On how to achieve better cooperation between the military and development personnel on the ground:
For the military, working better on the ground with USAID can come specifically from establishing a close working relationship with the USAID elements which will be operating with or alongside the military units. During periods of conflict, this ideally begins at the unit's home station before the deployment and continues without interruption right down to the ground level during the deployment and employment. If we've done this right, USAID or development personnel who'll be in the same area have had the chance to participate in the military unit's training during its preparations and in its mission rehearsal exercises prior to deployment.
On development's role in preventing conflicts:
As we start our second decade of counterinsurgency efforts in CENTCOM, it has become clear to us that one of the best ways we can defend our nation is to prevent factors that combine in our region which severely stress social systems ... ultimately creating a critical mass of hopelessness, and frequently leading to insurgency and conflict. Indeed, the social turmoil playing out in our region, the so-called Arab Spring, is a direct result of these societal forces boiling over....
On why domestic support for development is lower than support for the military:
I honestly think it is simply a combination of word association and exposure. Through the media, particularly since 9/11, your average American has had far more day-to-day exposure to the military culture than to the development world. Americans are accustomed to and generally understand the broad mission areas of the military in ways they never had prior to 9/11. In contrast, they may not have had any exposure to, or understanding of, the art and science of development.
In many respects, USAID's efforts can do as much -- over the long term -- to prevent conflict as the deterrent effect of a carrier strike group or a marine expeditionary force. There are adversaries in the CENTCOM region who understand and respect American hard power, but they genuinely fear American soft power frequently wielded in the form of USAID projects. While the hard power of the military can create trade, space, time, and a viable security environment, the soft power of USAID and the development community can deliver strategic effects and outcomes for decades, affecting generations.
On the budget fight over funding for USAID:
The development programs carried out by USAID directly support the president's National Security Strategy and are a sound expenditure of our nation's precious resources. As you note, some do feel that expending funds in support of development projects is a luxury. This argument complements the ever increasing concerns over the economic realities facing our government. The fiscal pie is only so big and the ability to carve out a larger slice -- no matter who you are -- will only continue to become more challenging.
Read the entire interview later this afternoon at www.usaid.gov/frontlines.
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher remains the top administration official in charge of missile defense negotiations with Russia despite reports to the contrary, a senior administration official told The Cable.
The Washington Times reported this week that Tauscher "was given a demotion" and no longer was serving as the lead administration official in charge of the negotiations, which are part of the bilateral working group meetings that the United States and Russia have been conducting for over a year. The same article reported that Tauscher had annoyed colleagues due to her abrasive style, and that she often referred to herself in the third person as "The Tausch." Jim Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, was now in charge, according to the report.
But that's simply not true, one senior administration official and one State Department official told The Cable. They pointed out that Tauscher is in Brussels now, meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's lead negotiator on missile defense cooperation.
"Ellen leads our team to the talks and her counterpart is Ryabkov and any contention that she has been demoted is just plain wrong," the senior administration official said.
Tauscher is in charge of diplomatic engagement with Russia on this issue and Miller is the technical expert who works with her, the official explained.
"Jim's an extremely able player on missile defense issues, and has been involved in discussions with the Russian Ministry of Defense that complement the overall talks on missile defense," the official said.
As for the accusation that Tauscher refers to herself as "The Tausch," that is apparently a nickname that was given to her by colleague and friend Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) when both served in Congress, according to the State Department official. It's a term of affection that some on Tauscher's staff have adopted, but not a nickname she is known to use herself, the official said.
The senior administration official also took issue with the Washington Times' assertion that the U.S.-Russia missile defense talks have "largely [been] kept secret from Congress and the public."
"The fact of these talks is a matter of public record -- that's not to suggest the details of the talks aren't private," the senior administration official said. "As the president has made clear, we see the possibility of missile defense with Russia as something that can serve both of our interests, it doesn't constrain us in any way."
Tauscher explained the rationale of pursuing missile defense cooperation with Russia in a speech at the Global Zero conference in Washington on April 8.
"Thirty years ago at the height of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan saw virtue in cooperating with Moscow on missile defense. We in the Obama administration do, too, because Missile Defense cooperation could make us safer and facilitate talks on further reductions on strategic, non-strategic, and non-deployed nuclear weapons," she said. "We want Russia inside the missile defense tent where it will see that missile defenses that the United States has planned to put in Europe are not about undermining Russia's strategic deterrent."
Meanwhile, the administration has been moving forward on implementing the Phased Adaptive Approach that was announced in 2009, which altered the Bush administration's plan to plant missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic. The latest announcement was a deal with Romania announced on May 3 to station interceptors there.
The article was written by Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz, who has written articles critical of Tauscher's bureau for months and has long drawn the ire of the State Department. As one State Department official said in January, "This particular reporter, as you know, has his own foreign policy."
25 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the United States is still paying hundreds of millions of dollars to help clean up the site.
Ukraine's Embassy in Washington has been holding a series of events to commemorate the disaster, including a conference on April 21 and an event Monday night on the embassy grounds. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, the highest ranking U.S. official at Monday's event, spoke about the ongoing effort to secure the site, which still remains dangerous a quarter-century later.
"The United States -- in concert with our G-8 partners and the international community -- remains committed to helping Ukrainians bring the damaged Chernobyl nuclear facility to an environmentally safe and secure condition," she said.
Gottemoeller said the U.S. government had already given over $240 million to help clean up the Chernobyl site and that, last week, a U.S. delegation to Ukraine led by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski pledged an additional $123 million toward completing the construction of a new confinement shelter to cover the aging sarcophagus, which was designed to block the release of radiation from the plant, and a storage facility for spent fuel at the site.
Ukraine has become a leader in nuclear safety and nuclear responsibility, she stated, through its decision to abandon nuclear weapons in 1994 and its 2010 decision to give up its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium. In return, the United States has expanded its nuclear cooperation with Ukraine, including helping the country construct a "neutron source facility" that will advance nuclear scientific and medical research.
With the world now facing a new crisis due to the partial meltdown of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, Gottemoeller emphasized that the risks of nuclear power are shared by all.
"The events at Fukushima, just like the events at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, remind us once again that nuclear safety recognizes no boundaries," she said.
In the above photo, taken at the Ukraine Embassy event, Gottemoeller is flanked by Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (left), and Ukrianian Ambassador Olexander Motsyk (right).
Jamie Mannina / State Department
The State Department is funding a project for a think tank to host diplomatic talks in Vienna, angering top lawmakers at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who believe the project undercuts their role.
The State Department funded project, which will cost U.S. taxpayers 60,000 euros, or about $83,400, will give representatives of OSCE countries a forum to meet outside of the OSCE's formal structures to work on various regional disputes. The OSCE is mainly run by the Secretariat , the Permanent Council, and the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). The contract dispute has pitted the PA against the both the Secretariat and the State Department.
Top PA officials have been trying to stop the project due to their concerns that the money was awarded without competition to a Canadian researcher who has previously been critical of OSCE parliamentarians.
"The main concern that we have had is the fact that the contract was not put out for competitive bid, the money just appeared on the table," OSCE PA Secretary General Spencer Oliver said in an exclusive interview with The Cable.
He also objected to taking important diplomatic functions away from the OSCE's formal structures and giving them to an NGO.
"It looks like they're outsourcing a major diplomatic function of the OSCE chairmanship, which would be a very bad precedent to set," Oliver said.
The State Department funds are being given to an organization called the International Peace Institute, which opened up a shop in Vienna only recently. The man in charge of the project is Canadian Walter Kemp, who has worked on OSCE issues for over 10 years. Kemp previously served as a speechwriter for the Secretariat, and has made several enemies among the OSCE PA.
Kemp advocated taking away some of the parliamentarians' power regarding OSCE election monitoring in an IPI paper published last October, and also disparaged their role at the 2010 OSCE summit in Astana.
"Parliamentarians parachuted in to read out headline grabbing statements undercut the credibility of long term and constructive election monitoring," Kemp wrote.
Canadian Sen. Consiglio Di Nino, the head of the Canadian delegation to the OSCE PA, was so angry with Kemp that he wrote to him about the article. "If the comments reflect your opinion, this would indicate a serious lack of understanding of a complex matter and calls into question your reputation as a fair and knowledgeable person," he said.
"We know Kemp and he's been doing this for years," Oliver told The Cable. "He's always shown an extreme bias against parliamentarians."
Oliver also said there was a conflict of interest in the contract award because OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut is on the board of IPI.
Several U.S. Congressmen connected to the OSCE PA have complained to the State Department about the contract, including Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Jim Costa (D-CA), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Alcee Hastings (D-FL). Their objections convinced State to hold up the funds for a time, but a State Department official told The Cable that State has now decided to let the funds go through.
The State Department official said that the project would be managed by the upcoming Lithuanian chairmanship of the OSCE, and that the State Department felt the project was a useful way to provide a forum for talks that can't occur in the formal structures of the OSCE.
"We support this project. We were not aware of this impolitic comment by this researcher Walter Kemp," the official said. "We know Walter well, he's been involved with the OSCE for 10 years. He's a really sharp guy. The Lithuanians thought he was the right guy to run these workshops."
The money was awarded without competition but is not technically a no-bid contract because it's an extra budgetary project of the OSCE, the official said. The official promised that State would exercise vigorous oversight.
"We understand that people in the PA are upset and we're upset that this researcher wrote what he did. But when he wrote it he wasn't under contract by the OSCE and he has the right to write what he wants. He's going to be on a very short leash," the official said.
Amb. Ian Kelly, the top U.S. representative to the OSCE, has been handling the dispute in Vienna. Kelly called Oliver last week to give him assurances State would keep tabs on the project.
"As you know, some members of the Parliamentary Assembly... raised some questions about the goals of the project, and the implementing partner," Kelly wrote in a March 4 letter to Lithuanian Amb. Renatas Norkus. "As a result, it is particularly incumbent upon us to ensure maximum transparency with, and maximum participation of, the Parliamentary Assembly in the workshops, to the extent possible and appropriate."
"This is an important project and we are happy to help you implement it," Kelly wrote.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) warned an audience of foreign policy hands on Tuesday evening about the threat of "lawfare" on U.S. sovereignty, lashing out at the State Department, American law schools, the European Union, and the "so-called international community."
"First of all, it is important to recognize that the campaign against national sovereignty... is not going to go away anytime soon," Kyl said, as he accepted the distinguished service award at the annual gala event of the Center for the National Interest, which as of Tuesday is the new name of the Nixon Center.
The lavish event at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel featured short and almost universally upbeat speeches by notable foreign policy figures, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, retired Gen. Chuck Boyd, center President Dimitri Simes, and fellow award recipient Julie Nixon Eisenhower.
But Kyl's acceptance speech turned into a 25-minute diatribe about the risk of the United States slipping unwittingly into an undemocratic system of international laws that would result in the loss of U.S. legal sovereignty. A large portion of the speech was directed at the State Department's top lawyer Harold Koh and the administration's announcement on Monday that it would honor two additional protocols to the Geneva Convention.
"Some Americans, including many leading academics and some high-level government officials, view sovereignty as an outmoded notion," Kyl said. "They want the United States to accept the authority of so-called transnational legal norms."
"In certain American intellectual circles, sovereignty is viewed not as a principle to be upheld, but a problem to be remedied. That view, with roots that reach back decades, is particularly strong among some faculty members at our prestigious law schools."
Kyl said that Koh, a former dean of Yale Law School, was a strong advocate of adopting certain elements of international law. Kyl said that Koh's philosophy was "not consistent with how laws are supposed to be made in our constitutional democracy."
The State Department announced on Monday that it would work to ratify Additional Protocol II of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which mandates stricter enforcement measures to guarantee the humane treatment of prisoners, and that the United States would voluntarily adhere to the norms established under Article 75 of Protocol I in international armed conflicts, which also prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners.
"The Additional Protocol would permit terrorist groups to receive POW privileges even if they hide among civilian populations and do not reveal themselves until just before an attack. This would give terrorists advantages over conventional forces," Kyl said. "If the United States adopted it, Protocol 1 would hamper American combat operations, increasing risks for U.S. soldiers, as well as for civilians in combat zones."
Kyl then went on to criticize the joining of sovereign legal systems in the European Union and said that the changes in Europe ran counter to democratic principles.
"Many of our friends in Europe believe that national sovereignty itself, including the sovereignty of democratic states, is problematic. They view international agreements as a means to advance progressive ‘norms' that have little support among democratic publics. And, some view it as a way to constrain U.S. power," Kyl said.
"In Europe there never was a sustained, serious, popular debate about the loss of sovereignty and democratic accountability. It just happened."
Several European ambassadors were present at the event. One of them, a critic of the EU, said to The Cable of Kyl's speech, "That was a lot of Europe bashing, even for me."
McCain's speech, by contrast, was light and self-deprecating.
"I must again ask for your sympathy for the families in the state of Arizona, because Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran for president of the United States, Mo Udall of Arizona ran for president of the United States, Bruce Babbitt of Arizona ran for president of the United States, I from Arizona ran for president of the United States," McCain said.
"Arizona might be the only state in America where mothers don't tell their children they can grow up to be president."
Other notables in attendance included freshman Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), former Congresswoman Jane Harman, former AIT Chairman Hank Greenberg, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, the center's executive director Paul Saunders, emcee Steve Clemons, and of course, your humble Cable guy.
Vice President Joseph Biden and Dr. Jill Biden just arrived in Finland in what is the highest-ranking visit by a U.S. official to Helsinki since the Clinton administration.
The Bidens, who arrived three hours late due to bad weather in Washington, were greeted at the tarmac by Bruce Oreck, U.S. ambassador to Finland (and vacuum cleaner magnate); Mika Rossi, state secretary in the prime minister's office; Ann-Marie Nyroos, foreign policy adviser to the president; Pekka Lintu, the Finnish ambassador to the United States; Mikko Jokelo, chief of protocol; and Anja Laisi, deputy chief of protocol. The Bidens brought granddaughter Finnegan along for the trip.
On Monday night, the Bidens will meet with the U.S. embassy staff in Helsinki and tour the city. The vice president is scheduled to meet with Finnish President Tarja Halonen on Tuesday, and then have a working lunch with Finnish Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi and greet Speaker of the Parliament Sauli Niinistö.
"The last visit by a U.S. president or vice president to Finland was President Clinton in March of 1997," said Biden's top national security advisor Tony Blinken. "And we thought it was past time to return to acknowledge the vitality and strength of our relationship."
Clinton visited Helsinki in 1997 for a summit on military and economic issues with then Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
On the agenda for Biden's short stopover in Finland is the situation in Afghanistan, where Finland has 200 soldiers deployed. Biden also plans to talk about U.S.-EU relations. Finland is also a leader in green technologies, always a subject the vice president is keen to discuss.
Biden also happens to be in Finland on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.
"It's really a fitting place to be, because Finland has played a lead role in promoting global efforts to advance women's issues," Blinken said, noting that both the Finnish president and prime minister are women.
After Finland, Biden will travel to Russia, where World Trade Organization and missile defense will top the agenda. Following that, he will travel on to Moldova before returning to Washington later this week.
Vice President Joseph Biden argued on Thursday for forceful and early international intervention to prevent governments from committing atrocities, but didn't explicitly make the case for such intervention in Libya.
"I got in trouble when I said, during the Bosnia crisis, coming back from meeting Milosevic... that when a state engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty," Biden told an audience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where he was speaking at an event honoring the late Congressman Tom Lantos.
"And it was viewed at the time as somehow being contrary to the notions of the principles of the United Nations Charter that you forfeit your sovereignty," Biden said. "I remember the first person to call me as I was being roundly criticized was Tom Lantos, [who said,] ‘Keep it up, Joe.'"
Biden lauded the Obama administration for creating a senior-level position inside the National Security Council to coordinate what he referred to as new, stronger policies on preventing, identifying, and responding to mass atrocities and genocide.
"Too often in the past, these efforts have come too late, after the best and least costly opportunities to prevent them have been missed," Biden said. "First, we must recognize early indicators of potential atrocities and respond accordingly, rather than waiting until we are confronted by massacres like those in Rwanda or in Srebrenica."
He referenced the same two examples of genocide that Anne-Marie Slaughter, former top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, referred to when calling for international intervention in Libya. Biden criticized the international community for waiting so long to stop the killing of civilians in those cases.
"It's amazing how in the Balkans it took so long," Biden said. "Our administration also believes that holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable is an essential component of our prevention efforts. And that's why we have to reinvigorate efforts to bring some of the worst war criminals to justice."
While Biden lamented the international community's slow response to past instances of atrocities, he didn't explicitly name Libya's Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi as a candidate for such a response or explain how the administration's atrocity prevention policy would be applied in the current Arab world crisis. Rather, he repeated the administration's message that the international community must uphold three overarching principles with regards to Libya: an end to violence, protection of universal rights, and progress toward political reform.
"The Holocaust and the legacy are not only a part of our country's history, this country's history, but they continue to inform our approach to events today. They stiffen our resolve and our conscience, God willing, in the face of atrocities wherever and whenever they occur," Biden said.
He also quoted Lantos on the issue.
"‘The veneer of civilization is paper-thin,' Lantos often said. We are the guardians, and we can never rest."
The Obama administration is considering a range of options for pressuring the Libyan regime to stop massacring civilians -- including sanctions, asset freezes, and perhaps even the establishment of an international no-fly zone. But according to a senior NSC official, armed intervention in Libya is not on the table.
Four Republican senators are calling on the Obama administration to place a sensitive missile defense-related radar site in Georgia, rather than in Turkey, as is currently planned.
"We believe that the U.S. should deploy the most effective missile defenses possible -- in partnership with our allies -- that provide for the protection of the U.S. homeland, our deployed forces, and our allies," began a Feb. 3 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), James Risch (R-ID), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and James Inhofe (R-OK).
The senators are responding to statements from the Turkish government that it would only agree to host the new radar, known as TPY-2, if the United States agrees not to share with Israel any of the information gathered by the radar site, which is part of a NATO system discussed at the recent Lisbon summit. Turkey also wants command and control over the radar and wants NATO to remove any references to Iran as the threat targeted by the missile shield.
For all these reasons, the senators think Georgia would be a better option.
"We believe that the Republic of Georgia's geographic location would make it an ideal site for a missile defense radar aimed at Iran, and would offer clear advantages for the protection of the United States from a long range missile as compared to Turkey," the senators wrote. "What's more, the Republic of Georgia should be a significant partner for future defense cooperation with the U.S."
The senators asked Gates to tell them if Georgia was under consideration as a possible host for the radar site and, if not, what other alternatives the Pentagon is considering.
The prospects of NATO or the Obama administration actually placing a missile defense radar site in Georgia are slim, considering that Georgia is not in NATO and that the consequences for U.S. -Russia and NATO-Russia relations could be devastating.
But the letter is a sure sign that the new Congress is prepared to ramp up its advocacy of restoring defense cooperation with Georgia, which has slowed to a crawl since the 2008 Russian invasion. Other senators who are calling for more military support and cooperation for Georgia include John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"The United States, under substantial Russian diplomatic pressure, has paused the transfer of lethal military articles to Georgia, and no U.S. assistance since the war has been directly provided to the Georgian Ministry of Defense," Lugar wrote in a December 2009 report. "Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."
The road ahead for New START got much clearer Sunday, as the treaty heads for a final vote this week despite the now open opposition of the two top Republicans in the Senate.
Sunday's Senate action surrounded an amendment put forth by Sen. James Risch (R-ID) that sought to amend the treaty's preamble to add an acknowledgment that there is a relationship between strategic nuclear weapons (which are covered by the treaty) and tactical nuclear weapons (which are not). Risch argued that as the number of strategic weapons decreases, the significance of tactical nuclear weapons increases, and Russia has a distinct advantage in numbers of tactical nukes.
The Risch amendment failed by a vote of 32-60, after Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) characterized it as a "treaty killer" amendment because any change to the preamble would require a new round of negotiations with the Russian government.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the treaty Sunday night, which sets up a vote on Tuesday to end debate, according to what Kerry said on the floor. That would need 50 votes to succeed, after which there is still a maximum of 30 hours of additional debate before the final vote has to occur, placing the final vote on Thursday, December 23, the last working day before Christmas, Kerry said.
Reid declared he's not backing down. "As we move ahead, I look forward to continuing to debate amendments," he said on the Senate floor. "But soon this will come down to a simple choice; you either want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, or you don't."
A lot could change between now and then. Senate aides said that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was working with Democrats behind the scenes on a time agreement for the debate. As of Sunday evening, no time agreement had been struck.
The fact that it's now Corker doing the negotiating is significant. Until recently, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) had been the center of attention. But after nine GOP senators voted to move to debate New START last week over the objections of Kyl, the administration wrote off Kyl's vote and decided to push forward with the Republicans that were willing to go along.
Having no more leverage over the administration's decision making, Kyl went ahead and confirmed Vice President Joe Biden's speculation that Kyl was "flat out opposed" to the treaty in its current form and therefore would vote no when the final vote occurs.
"This treaty needs to be fixed. And we are not going to have the time to do that in the bifurcated way or trifurcated way that we're dealing with it here, with other issues being parachuted in all the time," said Kyl on Fox News Sunday, stating clearly if the treaty is not amended, he would vote no.
Kyl said repeatedly that there's just not enough time in the lame duck session to properly debate the treaty and make adjustments to meet GOP concerns about missile defense and other subjects.
"Well, what are we going through this exercise, then, for?" he went on. "We're just a rubber stamp for the administration and the Russians, the administration that for the first time wasn't willing to stand up to the Russians and say, ‘You're not going to implicate our missile defenses.'"
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) followed suit and announced his own public opposition to the treaty Sunday, as well.
"I've decided I cannot support the treaty," McConnell said on CNN's State of the Union. "I think if they'd taken more time with this, rushing it right before Christmas strikes me as trying to jam us."
Biden, asked Sunday if he was confident that there were enough votes to pass New START without McConnell and Kyl, said on Meet the Press, "I believe we do."
The administration may be writing off Kyl and McConnell's votes and therefore their concerns, but the broad GOP frustration with the process is real. Kerry keeps saying he will give the GOP as much time as they want to debate real amendments, but will cut off debate if he sees intentional stalling.
"We have now spent 5 days having a very good debate on New START and proposed amendments. That is as much time as the Senate spent on START I, and more than it spent on START II and the Moscow Treaty combined, but we are looking forward to continuing the debate this week," Kerry said.
But several GOP offices want more time to air their concerns, both for the historical record and to defend the idea that the Senate still has real influence over treaties.
"This is not an attempt to kill the treaty, this is an attempt to make it better," Risch said right before his amendment was voted down. "We have the right, we have the duty. We must advise and consent."
More amendments on the actual treaty are expected Monday. The next up is an amendment by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) that would increase the number of inspections mandated by the treaty. That amendment will also be discussed in a closed session scheduled for Monday afternoon to discuss classified intelligence matters related to New START.
Inhofe's amendment would triple the number of "Type One" inspections from 10 to 30 and triple the number of "Type Two" inspections from 8 to 24. Under the current language there is a reduction from 40 inspections per year in old START to 18 in New START.
Some Republicans think the current number of 18 inspections is unfair, because the U.S. only has 17 facilities that qualify for inspections, so Russians would see all of ours in one year. Russia has 35 facilities, so it would take us two years to see all the Russian facilities.
Inhofe's amendment is also expected to be rejected after Kerry identifies it as a "treaty killer." Treaty supporters have been successful in batting down Republican amendments, including one Saturday by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), by painting them as "treaty killers."
Kerry keeps suggesting that amendments should be made to the Resolution of Ratification (ROR), an accompanying document that doesn't require Russian consent to be changed. The problem is, nobody on the GOP side knows whether there will actually be time to debate the ROR at length.
As the Christmas holiday approaches and this round of amendments drags on, there's a good chance that the debate on the ROR could be very hurried. So, the lack of clarity is pushing GOP senators to move their amendments now out of fear the clock will run out.
And by the way, the treaty supporters may have lost Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who all but ruled out voting for the treaty during the lame duck session.
"I'm not going to vote for Start," he said on CBS's Face the Nation, "until I hear from the Russians that they understand we can develop four stages of missile defense, and if we do, they won't withdraw from the treaty."
Supporters of the New Start treaty staved off an attempt by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and John Barrasso (R-WY) to attach a "treaty killing" amendment on the Senate floor Saturday afternoon. Next up is an amendment by Sen. James Risch (R-ID) on linkage between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
The McCain-Barrasso amendment would have removed language from the treaty's preamble that acknowledged the relationship between offensive and defensive nuclear capabilities. They argued the language could constrain U.S. missile defense plans. However, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) maintained that the language stated an obvious fact and, in any case, was not legally binding. The amendment failed 37 to 59.
"The Russian government could use the treaty in its current form as a tool to place political pressure on the U.S. to limit its missile defense system," said McCain.
"All it does is to state a truism, a fact, a reality. There is a relationship between strategic offensive and defensive capabilities," said Kerry.
Kerry succeeded in characterizing the amendment as a "treaty killer," because any changes to the treaty or the preamble would require a new round of negotiations with the Russians.
"Make no mistake, this becomes a treaty killer," Kerry said. "Can we deal with this issue without it becoming a treaty killer? Yes. We've already dealt with it. It's in the resolution of ratification."
Kerry was referring to the Senate's resolution of ratification, which will be the subject of another debate after the treaty itself is considered. The resolution of ratification, which was primarily authored by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), expresses the Senate's opinion on the meaning of the treaty, and can be amended without stopping the treaty from going into effect right away. It is legally binding but does not require the treaty to be renegotiated with Russia because it simply gives the Senate's views on the pact.
As part of the debate, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) read quotes on the Senate floor from two separate articles that appeared on the Foreign Policy website, including one by FP Passport editor Joshua Keating and another by your humble Cable guy, and entered them into the Congressional Record. (Thanks Sen. Kyl!)
Before the Senate gives an up or down vote on New START, treaty supporters will have to deal with at least one more "treaty killer" amendment. The next one deals with the issue of tactical nuclear weapons and is being brought to the floor by Risch.
Risch, a member of the Foreign Relations committee, has been active on New START and almost derailed the committee consideration of the treaty over an undisclosed intelligence issue. His amendment would insert the following paragraph into the treaty's preamble:
Acknowledging there is an interrelationship between non-strategic and strategic offensive arms, that as the number of strategic offensive arms is reduced this relationship becomes more pronounced and requires an even greater need for transparency and accountability, and that the disparity between the Parties' arsenals could undermine predictability and stability.
Risch's office circulated a fact sheet about the amendment that was also endorsed by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK), and George Lemieux (R-FL), which explains the senators' concern that tactical nuclear weapons are not covered by the treaty, only strategic nuclear weapons.
"This amendment seeks to correct this flaw in the treaty, by acknowledging the interrelationship between offensive non-strategic (tactical nuclear) weapons and strategic range weapons," the fact sheet reads. "It also calls for increased transparency and accountability of these weapons and recognizes that these weapons can undermine stability."
The GOP senators also feel that the administration is misrepresenting the findings of the Perry-Schlesinger Congressional Strategic Posture Commission by saying that the commission recommended deferring negotiations on tactical nukes. Here's what former Defense Secretary William Perry said about the issue in his Senate testimony in April.
"The focus of this treaty is on deployed warheads and it does not attempt to count or control non-deployed warheads. This continues in the tradition of prior arms control treaties. I would hope to see non-deployed and tactical systems included in future negotiations, but the absence of these systems should not detract from the merits of this treaty and the further advances in arms control which it represents."
Many Senators believe that as the Perry-Schlesinger report points out in multiple places that there is an interrelationship between tactical and strategic weapons. Other senators feel Obama removed tactical nukes from the negotiating table so quickly in the summer of 2009 that he removed a point of leverage over the Russians.
The Obama administration has said that it would like to pursue reductions in tactical weapons with Russia in a future arms control treaty, what some insiders call the "follow on to the follow on." But considering how difficult it has been finishing New START, there's no telling when that might happen.
The Risch amendment is expected to receive a vote on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon. As for the final vote on the treaty? Nobody knows when that might occur. It depends on how many of the rumored 50 to 70 amendments the GOP has been preparing will actually reach the floor.
Kerry has said he will cut off debate and call for the final vote when he believes the Republicans are just attempting to stall the treaty's progress. McCain told him he can't say how long it will take to air all the GOP concerns.
"We will not have a time agreement on this side until all members have had a chance to express their views on this issue," McCain said on the floor, adding, "I promise I'm not trying to just drag this out."
As senators lined up Thursday to give speeches about the New START treaty on the Senate floor and the debate kicked into high gear, the White House formally abandoned its drive to work with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on ratifying the treaty.
Following Kyl's press conference Wednesday afternoon, during which he and 11 other GOP senators pledged to oppose the move to finish the treaty this year, the administration decided to make good on its promise to force a vote during the lame duck session and attempt to peel off the nine GOP votes that it will need to pass the treaty.
"Senator Kyl is opposed to the treaty. He's flat out opposed to the treaty," Vice President Joseph Biden told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell in an interview taped Wednesday evening.
Biden also criticized Kyl and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who said that debating the New START treaty this month was "disrespectful" and "sacrilegious" to Christians, respectively. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann called their tactic the "war against Christmas vacation."
"Don't tell me about Christmas. I understand Christmas. I was a senator for a long time and I've been there many years where we go right up to Christmas," Biden said. "There's 10 days between now and Christmas. I hope I don't get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation's business. This is the national security at stake. Act."
And so ends what at times had been a torturous attempt by the administration to cajole, entice, and even bribe Kyl to sign off on the treaty. The process began last year, when the administration flew Kyl to Geneva to witness the negotiations surrounding the treaty, and ended with the administration flying a team of officials to Arizona last month to present details of an $84 billion package for nuclear modernization they hoped would be enough to gain Kyl's support.
Kyl, who the Senate GOP anointed as their leader on New START, has been very coy about whether he would ultimately support the pact, even until yesterday. "If I announce for or against the treaty at this point, nobody would listen to me," he said at his press conference.
Only days after the administration flew a team to his home state, he declared there was no time to complete the treaty this year. Shortly after that announcement, Biden and top White House officials hosted a small roundtable with foreign affairs columnists, which included your humble Cable guy, where they promised to move forward with or without Kyl.
Looks like it's going to be without him. Biden's new boldness stems comes after a vote to move to debate on the treaty Wednesday passed 66 to 32, indicating that there is not enough Republican opposition to stop the process from moving forward. Democrat Evan Bayh (D-IN) missed the vote but is expected to support the treaty.
Nine Republicans voted to begin the debate: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), George Voinovich (R-OH), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Scott Brown (R-MA), and Bob Bennett (R-UT).
The vote has given treaty supporters confidence in the chances of ratification, but there will be many more twists and turns before that can happen. There are already signs that the procedural vote does not necessarily reflect how some senators will vote on the treaty. For example, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) issued a statement that he may support the treaty even though he voted against moving to debate.
"I voted against proceeding to consideration of the New START treaty because I don't agree with the decision to debate a nuclear arms treaty at the end of a lame duck session in the midst of considering an omnibus appropriations bill," said Corker. "But now that we are on the bill... if there is a full and open debate on the treaty and if the resolution of ratification isn't weakened in the process, it is still my plan to support the treaty."
The administration is also still working to increase the number of treaty supporters. Now that they feel there's a reasonable chance of passage, they are hoping fence-sitters can be encouraged to move to the winning side. Their targets are figures like Corker and Sen. Johnny Isaakson (R-GA), who voted for the treaty in committee, and other "moderate" GOPers, like new Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
They seem prepared to write off GOP senators who have said they might vote for the treaty but not if it's pushed through this month.
The GOP senators complaining about the schedule Wednesday were Sens. Kyl, Kirk, Pat Roberts (R-KS), Kit Bond (R-MO), James Risch (R-ID), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jeff Sessions (R-GA), John Thune (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), George LeMieux (R-FL), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and John Cornyn (R-TX).
Alexander, Lemieux and others have said they could perhaps support the treaty next year but will vote no during the lame duck session. Of course, that's what Kyl has said as well, and that's exactly the line that the White House is now openly rejecting.
Meanwhile, the Thursday debate focused the GOP senators's numerous concerns about the treaty, including missile defense, nuclear modernization, tactical nuclear weapons, and verification. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) spoke about the need to avoid amendments to the treaty's preamble, which were ruled in order by the Senate parliamentarian this week.
"The fact is, if you change that preamble now, you are effectively killing the treaty, because it requires the president to go back to the Russians and renegotiate the treaty," he said.
One amendment, which Kerry and supporters is calling a "treaty killer," would strip the preamble of language that acknowledges a relationship between offensive and defensive missile capabilities. Some Republicans think that may constrain U.S. missile defense plans, but the administration and Lugar disagree.
"This does not mean that Russia will not complain regarding U.S. missile defense deployment, as it has complained about U.S. missile defense plans for the past four decades," Lugar said. "But under the New START Treaty, we will continue to control our own missile defense destiny, not Russia."
In a one line tweet, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) came out in support of the New START Treaty with Russia Friday.
"Senator Collins announces support for new START treaty," her twitter feed read Friday morning.
In a statement set to released Friday, Collins said the administration had sufficiently addressed her concerns about Russia's tactical nuclear weapons, which are not part of the New START treaty.
"The New START represents a continued effort to achieve mutual and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons," Collins said. "As the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I support the President's commitment to reduce not only the number of strategic nuclear weapons through the New START treaty, but also to reduce, in the future, those weapons that are most vulnerable to theft and misuse - and those are tactical nuclear weapons."
That brings the total number of Republican senators who have clearly stated their support for the treaty to two. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has been working hard to get the treaty ratified for months.
But there are other signs Friday that more and more Republicans are getting ready to vote in favor of the treaty. Sen. John McCain, in a speech at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Friday morning, said he hoped New START could be debated "next week."
"My colleague Senator Jon Kyl is doing a tremendous job working with the administration to resolve the issues associated with nuclear modernization. I've been focusing my efforts on addressing the key concerns relating to missile defense. And I think we are very close," McCain said.
That matches what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told The Cable last week -- but it does not match Kyl's most recent statements. Kyl continues to say that there isn't enough time to debate and ratify the treaty this month, given that the tax issue remains unresolved.
One scenario that would push consideration of New START until next year is that the treaty could be brought up for a cloture vote, and then fail to win enough votes to close off debate. This could occur if many GOP senators are unhappy with their ability to bring up amendments, for example, leading them to vote against cloture even though they support ratification of the treaty.
This possibility would allow the administration to say they tried and were stifled by intransigent Senate Republicans. However, it would be a pyrrhic victory - wasting floor time during the lame duck session, and leaving the treaty to an uncertain fate during the next session of Congress.
So all eyes are on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the same guy who reluctantly brought the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal to the Senate floor Thursday knowing full well the cloture vote would fail, and Kyl, who the treaty supporters are hoping will finally show his cards.
If Kyl is ultimately determined to not strike an agreement this month, the question is whether the administration's intensive effort to find 8 or 9 GOP votes willing to buck their Senate leadership has paid off. As of right now, they've only got Lugar and Collins for sure.
UPDATE: The other Maine Senator, Olympia Snowe, also came out in support of the treaty Friday, kind of. She said her support for moving the treaty this year was was contingent on allowing "sufficient debate and amendments."
Collins' full statement after the jump:
Score one for Warsaw. President Barack Obama promised Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski on Wednesday that Poland would be admitted to the State Department's visa waiver program, a concession to Poland that also fulfills a key GOP senator's demand for his vote to ratify the New START treaty.
Poland, which is the only member of the 25-country "Schengen area" not able to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa in advance, has been petitioning the administration to let it in the program for a long time. After neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, and Latvia entered the program, the Poles finally got a promise from the Obama administration that they would work with Congress to make it happen.
"I am going to make this a priority," Obama said, sitting alongside Komorowski. "And I want to solve this issue before very long. My expectation is, is that this problem will be solved during my presidency."
So did Obama just promise to get it done before 2012 or 2016? That's unclear. But it is the strongest statement from this administration yet about the issue.
"I am well aware that this is a source of irritation between two great friends and allies, and we should resolve it," Obama said. "The challenge I have right now is that there is a congressional law that prevents my administration from taking unilateral executive action. So we're going to have to work with Congress to make some modifications potentially on the law."
"I take these declarations with good faith," Komorowski responded. "I feel simply committed to say that Polish public opinion completely does not understand why all the neighbors of Poland, the neighborhood of Poland, can use the Visa Waiver Program, and we can't."
The Obama administration has overseen a rough patch in U.S.-Poland relations. After being hailed as a leader of "new Europe" by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and being promised missile defense installations by President George W. Bush's administration, the Poles watched with alarm as the United States shifted its focus toward Russia after Obama was elected.
The Poles publicly support the U.S. "reset" policy with Russia, reasoning that improved U.S.-Russia relations increase stability for the entire continent. But privately, they have felt neglected and still smart from what they see as the Obama administration's poor handling of the decision to scuttle missile defense installations planned for Poland and replace them with other types of military cooperation.
But Obama has an ulterior motive in moving the visa waiver program forward unrelated to improving U.S.-Polish relations. As The Cable reported, Sen. George Voinvovich (R-OH) offered to trade his vote on the New START treaty in exchange for this concession to Poland.
Voinovich argued that the Poles had increasing doubts about their relationship with the United States, due to the Russian "reset" policy and New START, and therefore needed to be reassured with the visa action. But Polish Foreign Minister Radislow Sikorski said last month, and Komorowski affirmed today, that Poland supports the ratification of New START. They think the visa issue should be addressed on its own merits.
"Poland supports and fully accepts the aspiration for the ratification of the new START because we believe that this is the investment in the better and safer future, and this is also the investment in the real control over the current situation," Komorowski said.
"You have to have the confidence but you also have to verify, because then, perhaps at the end of the process, we will also push the reset button [with Russia], after 1,000 years of our history," he said.
Entry into the visa waiver program is an issue of national pride and international respect for Poland. The technical reason Poland couldn't enter the program was because the rate of refusal of its citizens who apply for visas to the United States was over 10 percent. In other words, too many Poles were judged by American consular officials as a risk for overstaying their visas and becoming illegal immigrants.
Poland is now under the 10 percent threshold -- but the standard was dropped to 3 percent last year after the Department of Homeland Security failed to meet its own deadlines for an unrelated biometric security program.
So exactly how did Komorowski approach Obama on the visas? "I want all Poles and Polish-Americans to know that President Komorowski raised this issue very robustly with me," Obama said.
We're told by a source who was inside the room that Komorowski didn't make a specific demand, but simply told Obama that this was a very important issue to him and the Polish people, and that all items of cooperation were on the table between the two allies. .
Obama was joined by Ambassador to Poland Lee Feinstein, who has been dealing with the issue in Warsaw. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also attended.
Now that the Obama administration and congressional Republicans have reached an agreement on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, the attention on Capitol Hill turns to whether there's enough time to debate and vote on the New START treaty with Russia this month. On Tuesday, 16 GOP members of the House of Representatives weighed in on the decision, calling for a delay on the vote until next year.
"We are troubled by the Administration's push to ratify the New START Treaty amid outstanding concerns regarding Russian intentions, missile defense limitations, and nuclear modernization," the congressmen, who do not have a vote on the pact, wrote Tuesday to Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "Given the security implications associated with this treaty and the importance of such a treaty enjoying bipartisan support, we believe the Senate should not be rushed in its deliberations. Therefore, we urge the Senate not to vote on the New START Treaty in the lame duck congressional session and certainly not until these important security issues are resolved."
The representatives, led by incoming House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee ranking Republican Mike Turner (R-OH), acknowledge in the letter that they have no official say over the treaty's ratification. But nevertheless, they want to make their voices heard.
"The outcome of the treaty will undoubtedly impact national security policy and investment decisions within our jurisdiction as authorizers of the annual defense bill, and we will be responsible for overseeing its implementation," they wrote. "Because of these roles, we feel compelled to express our concerns."
On Thursday, 22 GOP senators, who do get a vote, wrote to McConnell (PDF) to lay out their position on the New START treaty. They stated that they wanted to be consulted before any agreement is reached, that the ratification debate shouldn't be rushed, and that they must see the full negotiating record between the administration and the Russians before the vote -- a record the administration has already said it won't provide.
The senators didn't say they would definitely vote no if the treaty comes up this month, but that's the implicit threat. Even without these 22 votes, the treaty could garner the 67 votes needed for ratification, but not without Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the votes he brings in tow.
The letters sent by the GOP congressman and senators are just the latest in the public back and forth over whether there's enough time to complete the treaty during the lame duck session. On Dec. 3, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told The Cable in an exclusive interview that an agreement with the GOP to hold the vote this month was close. "It's like a no-hit game. We've made a lot of progress, but it's not done until it's done," she said.
Kyl, who has said that the debate on New START can't begin until the taxes issue is resolved, said Dec. 5 on CBS's Face the Nation that "there is not time to do it in the lame duck when you consider all of the other things that the Democratic leader wants to do."
That comment prompted Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) to say Monday that he was getting "mixed signals" from the GOP.
"There are some on the Democratic side that thought we were in good shape to call it before we left, and to act on it. And, then over the weekend, Sen. Kyl said it would not be called during the lame-duck session. So, I can't tell you exactly where we are today," Durbin said.
On the same day as Kyl's pessimistic statement, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) said that he was optimistic about holding a vote on the treaty this year. "The votes are there [to ratify the treaty]," Lugar told CNN's Candy Crowley.
The administration continues to build its case for a debate and vote on New START this year, securing the albeit-reserved endorsement of the final former secretary of state yet to weigh in publicly on the treaty.
"With the right commitments and understandings, ratification of the New Start treaty can contribute to this goal," former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. "If the Senate enters those commitments and understandings into the record of ratification, New Start deserves bipartisan support, whether in the lame-duck session or next year."
U.S. diplomats collecting personal information on foreign officials is neither new nor unusual, multiple State Department officials told The Cable, in response to the release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive diplomatic messages by the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
One of the most discussed of the more than 200 diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has released from its reported cache of over 250,000 is a July 31, 2009 cable sent from Washington to several diplomatic missions entitled, "Reporting and collection needs: The United Nations." Classified as SECRET by Michael Owens, the State Department's acting director for operations at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the cable outlines a long list of personal information the U.S. intelligence community wanted U.S. diplomats to collect about U.N. and foreign officials, including cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, internet "handles," passwords, credit card account numbers, and frequent flyer account numbers.
The new National HUMINT Collection Directive was only one of several that asked U.S. diplomats to collect human intelligence around the world, has been roundly portrayed in domestic and foreign media as directing diplomats to act as intelligence assets. The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper's article was entitled, "US diplomats spied on UN leadership." The New York Times said that the cables "appear to blur the traditional boundaries between statesmen and spies."
But in an interview with The Cable on Sunday evening, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that these activities did not mean that U.S. diplomats were being asked to act as intelligence assets.
"Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," Crowley said. "They represent our country around the world and engage openly and transparently with representatives of foreign governments and civil society. Through this process, they collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."
Another State Department senior official objected to the contention that these directives came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that they are marked as being from "SECSTATE." Germany's Der Spiegel, in their write up of the State Department cables, called them "Orders from Clinton."
"The long-standing practice at the State Department is to include the secretary's name at the end of every cable sent from Washington," Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told The Cable. "This practice has not included that the secretary review or approve the hundreds of thousands of cables sent each year."
But the leaked directives to U.S. diplomats to report about foreign officials are causing considerable angst inside the State Department, where many officials believe that the nature of the communiqués are being misreported and misinterpreted.
"What this cable represents is an annual wish list from intelligence managers that just highlights for the U.S. government issues of particular interest and just asks if they come across any of these areas in the course of their normal duties that they report it through appropriate channels," one State Department official told The Cable on background basis.
"Overseas, it's being misconstrued that the Secretary of State is tasking diplomats to do intelligence duties, and that's not the case," the official said.
At their Foggy Bottom headquarters, State has set up an internal working group that is working in shifts around the clock, "monitoring the situation and supporting our senior staff and embassies around the world," the official said. "We follow the same process whenever a major event occurs."
Specifically, the cables show that U.S. diplomats in New York were asked to collect Biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats. Separate cables disclosed on Sunday show that U.S. diplomats overseas were asked for specific reporting on officials from the Palestinian territories, Paraguay, Bulgaria, and Africa's Great Lakes region.
The State Department officials emphasized to The Cable the distinction between diplomats who collect information as part of a wide range of duties and intelligence personnel, who have a singular and specific mission. The official also argued that other countries do the same thing and that the intelligence gathered by U.S. diplomats also benefits Washington's allies.
"Information collection is something that diplomats of every country do every day. These areas of particular interest, they're not just ours," the official said. "This is information that's of use to us, and to our allies and friends with whom we're trying to solve regional and global challenges."
"We're not asking our diplomats to do anything substantially different from what they've been doing for eons," the official continued. "Every diplomat and mission around the world is doing the same thing."
The U.S.-Russian "reset," meant to repair relations between the two former rivals, has been led by U.S. President Barack Obama and his counterpart, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The White House sees the reset, along with its key deliverable, the New START nuclear reductions treaty, as part of its effort to strengthen Medvedev's credibility within the Russian system, as opposed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Vice President Joseph Biden spoke of how New START fits into the administration's drive to empower Medvedev at a small roundtable on Nov. 20 with a group of foreign affairs columnists, including your humble Cable guy.
"I do believe that there is a play here," he said. "Medvedev has rested everything on this notion of a reset. Who knows what Putin would do? My guess is he would not have gone there [in terms of committing to the reset], but maybe."
Russia experts aren't so sure that passing New START would strengthen Medvedev's position vis a vis Putin. Most of them believe that Putin was, is, and will likely remain the more powerful of the two Russian leaders.
Biden acknowledged that nobody in Washington, including himself, really knows what's going on inside the Kremlin between Medvedev and Putin, but he truly believes that a stronger "reset" policy, which includes ratifying New START, is good for Medvedev -- and a stronger Medvedev is good for U.S.-Russia relations.
"The centerpiece of where Medvedev is, is this reset. And [START] is the crown jewel inside that reset, because it wasn't Putin pushing this, it was Medvedev," Biden explained. "I'm not suggesting that if START fails, all of the sudden we're back in a Cold War with Russia. But I am saying that the things in the margins that make a big difference right now might be different."
Biden pointed to what he characterized as "unprecedented" Russian cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran as areas where the reset policy has advanced U.S. interests, and which could be jeopardized if New START fails.
But Russia experts from the left and right agreed that the idea of a rift on foreign policy between Medvedev and Putin is often exaggerated in Washington, and that Medvedev isn't likely to have pursued the reset without Putin's agreement. But they also agreed that Putin's likely return to the presidency in 2012 spells trouble for the U.S.-Russia relationship.
"We have a tendency in Washington to see a mortal struggle over the strategic direction of Russia between Medvedev and Putin that simply doesn't exist in reality," said Samuel Charap, fellow at the Center for American Progress. "However, the implications of a return to the presidency for Putin are serious and significant in a negative way for the U.S."
As president, Putin did engage in arms control agreements with the Bush administration, including signing the 2003 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), known as the Moscow Treaty, which would be nullified by New START. But Putin also left office with a bad taste in his mouth regarding arms control deals with Washington, after the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty..
Charap said it's wise to have a "healthy skepticism" about Biden's notion that there are real differences on strategic questions between Medvedev and Putin. "I cannot imagine that major strategic decisions of national import are taken by Medvedev without the consultation of Putin," he said.
Whether or not Putin would be more or less amenable to New START, the Obama administration shouldn't be trying to play the murky game of internal Russian politics, other experts said.
"It's a dangerous path to go down to try to split Medvedev and Putin," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "Although focusing on Medvedev seems to have produced some dividends, we should not be under the illusion that we can elevate Medvedev to be the principal decision maker, because he will never be as long as Putin is around."
"I don't see any evidence to show that there's a split between Medvedev and Putin on this issue," Petersen said. "They actually agree on this issue, which is that they are willing to cooperate now but they will take any opportunity to get out of their responsibilities while holding the U.S. to their side of the agreement."
In an interview with Foreign Policy, Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who served under President Putin, described the Medvedev-Putin relationship as that between "a boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country."
When asked if he thinks Putin will run for president in 2012, Kasyanov said, "I wouldn't say ‘run,' just step in."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.