While the Senate is focused on the struggle over whether to ratify the New START treaty during the lame duck session, foreign policy and Russia specialists are also watching the House intently, to see if it will pass a separate civilian nuclear agreement with Russia -- despite ( not surprisingly) staunch GOP opposition.
The Obama administration submitted the deal known as the U.S.-Russia 123 agreement, to Congress back in May. The agreement would allow U.S.-Russian cooperation on sharing nuclear technology for energy purposes. Shortly thereafter, a diverse coalition of Republicans and Democrats mobilized to voice their concerns. The agreement is one of several bilateral civilian nuclear agreements the Obama administration has been pushing. It has signed a deal with the UAE, is in the process of updating deals with Australia and South Korea, and is negotiating similar deals with Vietnam and Jordan.
But the Russia deal has spurred the greatest opposition, especially from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who is not only a Russia skeptic, but also the incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"The U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement should be stopped," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement Nov. 17. "Russia continues to undermine U.S. interests in Iran, Venezuela, Central Asia, and elsewhere. Russia promotes nuclear proliferation through its reckless policies of selling nuclear facilities, technology, and materials to any country with ready cash, including constructing the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr."
Ros-Lehtinen even introduced a congressional resolution of disapproval regarding the deal, although nobody expects the resolution to be considered on the House floor. Unlike with the New START treaty, Congress does not have to ratify civilian nuclear agreements. If Congress simply does not act and 90 days of legislative business pass, the agreement goes into effect.
But that 90-day threshold also presents an obstacle to the administration's hope to implement the agreement. Congress needs to be in session for about 15 more days this year to reach 90 days, and nobody knows if that's going to happen. If Congress returns shortly after Thanksgiving and does business for three full weeks, that's enough. But if the lame duck session is short, the administration will have to resubmit it next year.
"If the legislative clock stops before the Russia agreement is approved, the president should not resubmit it to Congress until Moscow has changed course," Ros-Lehtinen said.
Ros-Lehtinen is also angry that the administration decided not to send anyone to testify at the committee's Sept. 24 hearing on the agreement. She argues that means the agreement has never had a Congressional oversight hearing, which is required by law.
"We can well understand why the Executive Branch wanted to kill a hearing on the Russia 123 agreement. Certainly none of us who have been following the overtures to the Russian government, including the removal of sanctions on Russian entities assisting Iran's nuclear and missile program, are surprised," she said at the time. "After all, it is abundantly clear that the Russia 123 agreement is a political payoff to the Russians, pure and simple, and cannot be defended on its merits."
Russia experts point out, however, that the U.S.-Russia 123 agreement preceded the Obama administration's "reset" policy toward Russia. The deal was in fact signed by President George W. Bush and would have gone into force in 2008, but was pulled after Russia invaded Georgia. They also point out that Bush supported Moscow's assistance to Tehran in building a light water reactor at Bushehr: it was intended to allow Russia to supply nuclear fuel to Iran and, in the process, remove any materials that could be weaponized.
"The best argument against Iran having their own enrichment capacity is having another country do it for them. So Bushehr is not a proliferation risk," said Samuel Charap, a fellow at the Center for American Progress. He said that Congress probably would not move to block the deal even next year, but "even a delay is going to be misinterpreted (as a rejection of the deal) in Moscow by people who don't understand how American politics work."
A GOP House aide who works on the issue disagreed. "People differ on the risk that Bushehr represents. Some people believe a light water reactor is problematic in Iran," the aide said, adding that on Iran, "Russia should be doing much more... There are 123 agreements that don't carry the baggage that the Russia 123 agreement does."
If Congress returns the Monday after Thanksgiving, they would have to stay in session until about Dec. 9 for the agreement to go through, the aide said. So will the House leadership have enough work to keep everybody in town that long?
"That's the million dollar question," the aide said. "A lot of people are wondering what the calendar is going to look like."
10 incoming GOP senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today to demand the right to vote on the New START treaty with Russia. Senator-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) didn't sign that letter, but his staff told The Cable that he hasn't decided how he will vote yet and won't decide until he receives several specific things from the Obama administration.
Kirk is a key vote, and not just because he is a moderate GOP lawmaker with decades of military and foreign policy experience. Kirk will fill the seat being vacated by appointee Roland Burris, which means he will be seated this year, probably shortly after the Thanksgiving break. So if somehow the administration is able to secure a vote on New START this year, Kirk will be one of three brand-new senators who will vote on the pact, along with Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Chris Coons (D-DE). Among them, Kirk is the only Republican taking over for a departing Democrat.
"The Senator-elect wants to carefully review all available information before making a decision on this matter," Kirk spokesman Lance Trover told The Cable Thursday.
An aide to Kirk explained to The Cable that Kirk is asking for multiple pieces of information before he makes up his mind: copies of the complete negotiating record of the treaty; documents related to a parallel discussion on U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation conducted by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher and her Russian counterpart deputy foreign minister Sergei Rybakov; classified briefings on the reliability of America's nuclear warheads from the directors of the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories; U.S. Strategic Command's written analysis prepared to support the treaty negotiations; planning documents showing the administration' commitment to modernize the three legs of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; and formal briefings from the Departments of State, Defense, and Energy.
That's a lot of data for the administration to pull together for Kirk before the end of the year. The administration has so far refused to provide senators with the full negotiating record or the inside details of the Tauscher-Rybakov discussions, so that could also be a stumbling block in the effort to win Kirk's vote.
On a conference call Thursday afternoon, The Cable asked Ben Chang, deputy spokesman for the National Security Staff, if the administration would entertain the idea of handing over the full negotiating record for New START.
Chang wouldn't say. But he reiterated that " there is time on the Senate calendar to get the treaty ratified this year and we are committed to do so."
So what about the other two new senators who will be seated during the lame duck? We haven't been able to get a response from Coons on his position, but Manchin spokesperson Lara Ramsburg told The Cable that "Joe Manchin's governing philosophy on defense policy will be to listen to our commanders and generals on the ground, and before he can cast a vote for or against START II, he will need to assess their recommendations." We're still trying to figure out just what that means, considering that every military leader from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down has voiced strong support.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama continues to pledge to push for a treaty vote this year and has tasked Vice President Joseph Biden to work on it "day and night."
"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year," Obama said Thursday. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."
President Obama is personally committed to pushing for a Senate vote on the New START treaty during this lame duck session of Congress. But he's going to Europe tonight, so he's ordering Vice President Joseph Biden to make it happen.
"As Senator [Harry] Reid said yesterday, there is time on the Senate calendar to get this treaty ratified this year. So I've asked Vice President Biden to focus on this issue day and night until it gets done," Obama said just before he met with top Cabinet officials and pro-treaty senators at the White House Thursday.
"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year, he said. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."
The president also appealed to the spirit of bipartisanship that has led to unity in support for many, but not all, past international arms treaties.
"As Ronald Reagan said, ‘we have to trust, but we also have to verify.' In order for us to verify, we've got to have a treaty," he said. "And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America's national security will be weakened."
What Obama didn't explain was how the administration intends to convince the Senate GOP leadership to agree to a vote this year. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has said he doesn't think there's enough time this year to finish work on the treaty, and 10 incoming Republican senators wrote on Thursday that they deserved the opportunity to weigh in after they are seated next year.
When asked whether he thought the treaty would pass this year, Obama simply stated, "I'm confident that we should be able to get the votes."
The meeting included Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger, former Secretaries of Defense William Cohen and William Perry, former National Security Advisor Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, and former Sen. Sam Nunn.
Obama's full remarks after the jump:
In a stunning rebuke to members of his own caucus, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) said on Wednesday that the GOP is intentionally trying to put off a vote on the New START treaty with Russia, and avoiding a serious discussion about the treaty within the caucus.
"At the moment, the Republican caucus is tied up in a situation where people don't want to make choices," Lugar told reporters in the hallway of the Capitol building Wednesday. "No one wants to be counted. No one wants to talk about it."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a big show on Wednesday morning of doubling down on the administration's drive for a vote to ratify the treaty during the lame duck session of Congress. Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) expressed confidence that a deal with Republicans and their leader on New START, Jon Kyl (R-AZ), was close at hand.
But according to Lugar, the Republican leadership is preventing a debate on the treaty for the rest of the year because they don't want to force their rank-and-file members to take a position on the agreement.
Kerry and Kyl continued to meet on Wednesday, ostensibly to work out a deal based on the $84 billion the administration is promising Kyl for nuclear modernization in exchange for his support of the treaty. Kyl told The Cable that negotiations were going forward "in good faith," but Lugar suggested that's all a smoke screen and that the Republican leadership is committed to avoiding completion of the treaty for the foreseeable future.
"Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now," he said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote."
Lugar argued that the intransigence within the Republican caucus is a result of the leadership's unwillingness to put current GOP senators in the crosshairs of the debate before the political terrain shifts in the Republicans' favor when the new Congress is sworn in.
"If you're a Republican, you anticipate that the lay of the land is going to be much more favorable in January and therefore would say, ‘If we do not have to make tough choices now, why make tough choices?'" Lugar explained.
Lugar wants the Democratic Senate leadership to cut off negotiations immediately and force a vote on New START now, to compel senators to get off the fence and to end the endless stalling coming from his own side of the aisle.
"I'm advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay [even if there's no deal]," he said. "I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."
Delaying until next year is a worst case scenario that could delay the treaty's ratification for months or even years as new senators request additional time to study the issue, and the committee process begins all over again, he said.
"Endless hearings, markup, back to trying to get some time on the floor... It will be some time before the treaty is ever heard from again," Lugar said.
Lugar also warned that the failure to ratify the treaty could have drastic consequences for other facets of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation -- especially the Nunn-Lugar effort to secure loose nuclear materials throughout the former Soviet Union.
If START fails, the cooperation between the United States and Russia on securing loose nukes could be imperiled, representing an even bigger risk for national security, Lugar said.
"There are still thousands of missiles out there. You better get that through your heads," he said, directing his comments to members of his own party.
Visitors from most EU countries can come to the United States for short stays without applying for a visa from the State Department, but Poland can't get that special status -- and it is not at all happy about it.
"Maybe one day the American Congress will find a good reason to finally lift the visa restrictions which we think are very unfair and completely unjustified," Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, Poland's Secretary of State for European Affairs, told The Cable in an interview.
He's referring to Poland's longstanding request to be included in the State Department's Visa Waiver Program, which currently allows citizens from 36 countries to enter the United States and stay for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa. This is among the top agenda items for Polish officials dealing with the United States, and a leading irritant in the otherwise positive U.S.-Polish relationship.
For the Poles, the Visa Waiver Program status is a matter of pride for a country that sees itself on par with other Western European giants. Poland also sees itself as a reliable ally of the United States that has constantly deepened cooperation on a range of matters, including ballistic missile defense, and the deployment of a proportionally large contingent of troops to Afghanistan.
"Maybe one day here in Washington people will treat Poland as a reliable and important partner in the European Union, not just some country with sentimental links," Dowgielewicz said.
Polish officials are quick to point out that Poland is the only country in what's known as the "Schengen Area" not to have the preferred visa status. The Schengen Agreement basically removed internal travel borders between the 25 European states that have signed it, meaning that Poles can travel almost anywhere in the West freely, besides the United States.
In April, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski discussed the matter with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the issue came again up during Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg's visit to Poland Oct. 7 to participate in the Wroclaw Global Forum. When asked about the issue by the Polish Press Agency, Steinberg said that the United States wanted to welome Polish visitors into the country, but that Poland had not met congressionally mandated standards for entering the Visa Waiver Program.
An administration official told The Cable that, according to the rules, Poland has to drastically lower the number of its visa applicants who get rejected when they apply for entry to the United States. Around 10 percent of Poles get rejected for visas, the official said, while the threshold for entry is that less than 3 percent must be rejected by the American consular officials who review their applications.
The administration official suggested that, in the long term, Poland might reach that threshold. "The trend in Poland is very positive, it's now hovering at 10 percent and it is in the downward direction," the official said.
But this rationale only frustrates the Poles more because, until recently, 10 percent would have been good enough. Under the 9/11 implementation bill, countries could be added to the program when they reached 10 percent. But because the Homeland Security Department failed to meet a deadline to add a related biometric program, the threshold shot back down to 3 percent last year.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, and Latvia all joined the program when 10 percent was the threshold, leaving the Poles feeling even more left out of the party.
Privately, there is still some concern in the U.S. government that Polish visitors are more likely to overstay their visas and remain in the United States illegally. Polish officials reject this reasoning as well.
"We can travel freely around the globe. For example, we can travel to Canada and there doesn't seem to be a big invasion of Poles in Canada," Dowgielewicz said.
The stalled nomination of Norm Eisen to become ambassador to the Czech Republic is becoming an issue in the U.S.-Czech relationship, according to the State Department.
Eisen, who left his job as White House ethics czar in August, is facing opposition in the Senate from Finance Committee ranking Republican Chuck Grassley (R-IA). As The Cable reported Wednesday, Grassley is leading a bicameral effort to hold Eisen accountable for what Grassley says are misrepresentations Eisen made to Congress regarding the White House firing of Gerald Walpin as Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable that the stalled Eisen nomination came up in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's bilateral meeting Wednesday with Czech First Deputy Prime Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who was in town to announce the deployment of more Czech troops to Afghanistan.
"The Czech Republic is understandably concerned about the extended absence of a U.S. ambassador," Crowley said. "His absence does affect our relationship. The Secretary reiterated our commitment to the nomination and hopes that Mr. Eisen will be confirmed in a lame duck session."
Grassley's office hasn't specified what exactly Eisen or the administration could do to encourage him to lift his hold. If he doesn't relent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would have to file cloture and hold a roll-call vote on the nomination, which is possible but difficult due to the scarcity of floor time during the post-election Senate sessions.
Not all Senators share Grassley's contention that Eisen's role in the Walpin affair remains unsettled. In a June 2009 letter (PDF) to President Obama, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) wrote that the administration had proved it met the legal requirements for notifying Congress when an inspector general is removed.
Eisen's allies are also circulating this parody newsletter created by Walpin as evidence that his behavior warranted his termination. In the fake newsletter, Walpin wrote satire news announcements that some saw as inappropriate, such as an item "reporting" that former New York Governor Elliott Spitzer was a leading candidate to head the Office of the Inspector General's procurement shop.
"If selected for this important post. I plan to bring a high level of service and satisfaction to the procurement process," Walpin had the fake Spitzer quoted as saying. "My policy is, either vendors put out or get out."
With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee having delayed its vote on President Obama's nuclear treaty with Russia until September, the committee's top Republican is warning that time is of the essence.
Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, told committee members at Tuesday's business meeting that even though the committee could have approved the treaty, allowing it to go to the full Senate, he felt it better to take the time to build more consensus before requiring senators to stake out their positions.
But ranking member Richard Lugar, R-IN, warned that if the treaty stalls, it might be hard to build up momentum again. He also said he had argued internally for holding the committee vote this week to allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, to go ahead and reserve precious Senate floor time for treaty consideration in September.
If the committee doesn't vote until September, it's "problematic" to try to get floor time before the next break, Lugar said, meaning that the December "lame duck" post-election session would be where the treaty would get a full Senate debate.
"If not [before the election], then whether it works out in December or not is no longer a matter of parliamentary debate, it's a matter of national security," he said, citing the fact that U.S. inspectors have not been able to verify Russian behavior regarding nuclear weapons deployment since the original START agreement expired late last year. "We ought to vote now and let the chips fall where they may. It's that important."
"The problem of the breakdown of our verification, which lapsed December 5, is very serious and impacts our national security," Lugar said. Members may want to take extra time to consider the treaty, but if they are really concerned about Russian activity, ratifying the treaty is the way to address that, he added.
Kerry implored committee members to take the time over recess to think it over and come back to town ready to vote.
"We currently have no verifiability, no regime in place with Russia," he said. "My hope is that we can do this expeditiously when we come back ... Every senator should be prepared to mark up this resolution of advice and consent on September 15 or 16."
A draft of the resolution will be circulated well before then, Kerry added.
Meanwhile, more fence-sitting senators seem to be signaling that they are getting ready to support New START.
The Cable has been asking every single GOP senator repeatedly to state his or her position on the treaty. Before today, only Lugar and Bob Bennett, R-UT, had indicated support and only James Inhofe, R-OK, and Jim DeMint, R-SC, had said they would oppose it.
Today, The Cable caught up with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, who had previously said he had not come to a conclusion. He now says he is taking steps to prepare for a yes vote.
"I'm waiting for further action on the modernization of the nuclear weapons program," he said, referring to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl's ongoing negotiations with the administration over how much money will be made available for nuclear labs and other items.
Lieberman also said when the treaty does come up, he will put forth side documents called "reservations," which can be attached to the treaty to express congressional concerns while still allowing the treaty to go into effect without any changes.
"I may want to submit some reservations or understandings, which will enable me to vote for the treaty," he said.
The Cable also caught up with Senate Armed Services Committee member Jeff Sessions, R-AL, who wouldn't commit but seemed to be leaning toward a no vote.
Sessions said the treaty is not really important, gives too much to the Russians without getting enough in return, and compromises U.S. missile defense.
"It was pretty obvious to me that the administration team was all obsessed with getting it done and signing this treaty as some sort of psychological political statement to the world, and the Russians played us like a Stradivarius," he said. "I'm not buying the argument that this is necessary."
Sessions is most upset that President Obama laid out a goal of moving to a world without nuclear weapons in the first place. "This is such an unwise and incomprehensible policy that it makes everyone uneasy," Sessions said.
Still, Sessions won't say for sure which way he will go. When asked if he agreed with Lugar that time was running out, he said he doesn't have to state his position until a vote comes up.
"The vote's not today," he pointed out.
Once and future presidential candidate Mitt Romney is sending around a new fundraising letter, asking for money so that he can fight President Obama's new nuclear-arms reductions treaty with Russia.
"This is a critical midterm election year, and we need to ensure that we elect leaders who understand that a strong America is the best hope for freedom and peace in the world, and who will put our national security interests first," Romney wrote in mass email asking for contributions to his Free and Strong America PAC.
"WILL YOU STAND WITH ME TODAY IN THIS EFFORT BY MAKING A CONTRIBUTION TO MY PAC OF $35, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000, $2,500 OR EVEN THE MAXIMUM $5,000?"
Romney declared his opposition to the new START treaty in a much-criticized Washington Post op-ed entitled "Obama's Worst Foreign Policy Mistake." His fundraising drive echoes that line and also attacks Obama's foreign policy writ large.
"Unfortunately, this is not the first time that President Obama's foreign policy missteps have damaged our national security interests. His decision to abandon our missile defense system in Central Europe undercut key allies like Poland and the Czech Republic. And his policy of ‘engagement' with rogue nations has been met with North Korean nuclear tests, missile launches and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, while Iran has accelerated its nuclear program, funded terrorists and armed Hezbollah with long-range missiles," Romney wrote.
On START, Romney is clear in what he wants to happen. "Whatever the reason for the treaty's failings, it must not be ratified: The security of the United States is at stake," he said.
That position is shared by his ideological cohorts at the Heritage Foundation, who are starting a nationwide anti-ratification grassroots effort via their new 501c4 group, Heritage Action for America. Romney has been working with this group.
But the Heritage Foundation's main analyst on such matters, Baker Spring, didn't write the Romney op-ed, he tells The Cable. He does think the article signals a theme that many Republicans will now use to oppose not only START, but other arms-control initiatives the Obama team has plans to push forward.
"There's now, in play, two fundamentally different views regarding arms controls in the post-Cold War world," Spring said. "The question, simply and straight forwardly, is: Is the U.S. going to fashion an arms control policy based on at least the possibility if not the likelihood of a proliferated environment? Or is it going to go back to essentially the tried and true verities of Cold War-style, retaliation-based deterrence as a defining mechanism for what arms controls should obtain, as a fundamental goal?"
Spring acknowledges that his and Romney's views differ from those of most leading Senate Republicans, including Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and John McCain, R-AZ, two key GOP voices on START. Both Kyl and McCain are keeping their powder dry, bargaining for concessions on missile defense and nuclear modernization before they will say which way they intend to vote.
According to The Hill, Kyl and Vice President Joseph Biden are in negotiations over the treaty now.
Spring says that the basic positions of the two camps of Republicans are the same, but that senators are holding their fire as part of their strategy to get the most concessions possible.
"When you look at the Kyls and McCains of the world, I don't think there's at this point in time much difference between their position and where [South Carolina Sen. Jim] DeMint and Romney will be. I think that's a simple matter of legislative tactics," said Spring.
Senate sources said that various senators are preparing two types of measures that could impact the START debate, whenever it does get to the Senate floor. One type, an amendment to the resolution ratifying the treaty, would, if passed, force the document to go back to the Russians for another round of negotiations. That could be a ratification killer in a practical sense, by overcomplicating the process until it loses steam.
Another, less controversial way to express concerns would be a statement of reservation that a senator could try to tack on to the treaty. This could allow the GOP to air its complaints while still allowing ratification to go forward.
What's clear is that the Obama administration is working the GOP caucus hard to try to firm up the eight to 10 votes they will need to reach the 67-vote threshold. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, Tuesday and Defense Secretary Robert Gates went to talk with GOP senators about START as well.
Leading former senators from both parties are also joining the debate to make the case for ratification. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel are each headlining a pro-START think tank event this month.
Conservative opposition to the new nuclear reductions treaty between the United States and Russia has entered a new phase, with detractors expanding their aim outside of Washington in the hope of building grassroots support for their drive to thwart Senate ratification and make the treaty the centerpiece of their criticism of President Obama's foreign-policy agenda.
Mitt Romney, the once and future Republican presidential candidate, unofficially announced the GOP's change in tone with a Washington Post op-ed entitled "Obama's Worst Foreign Policy Mistake."
In the article, Romney repeats all the longstanding criticisms of the treaty put forth by some Republican senators: that it constrains U.S. missile defense expansion, allows for Russia to opt out at any time, ignores Russia's advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, and generally gives more to the Russians than they are giving back.
Defense writers such as Fred Kaplan have pointed out factual errors in Romney's piece, and even Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, felt the need Wednesday to respond directly with his own Post op-ed, where he took on Romney's arguments point by point and also accused the former Massachusetts governor of demagogueing the issue to score political points with conservative voters.
"Even in these polarized times, anyone seeking the presidency should know that the security of the United States is too important to be treated as fodder for political posturing," Kerry wrote.
But the expansion of the New START debate into the national political arena is not an accident. The anti-ratification crowd is mobilizing supporters all over the country with the express aim of making START a pillar of conservative opposition to President Obama's foreign policy.
One of the main activities signaling this shift is a nationwide lobbying effort recently begun by the group Heritage Action for America, a new organization closely tied to the Heritage Foundation, the well-known conservative think tank. Heritage Action for America was established as 501c4 organization, which means it can do direct lobbying on the Hill and broad grassroots lobbying around the country.
Killing START is one of the group's two keystone efforts, along with a drive to push a repeal of the new health-care bill in the House. The organization is now circulating a petition to its 671,000 dues-paying members featuring a video of Romney criticizing the treaty.
"To date, discussion of New START has been an inside-the-beltway issue with little input from the American people," Heritage Action's CEO Michael A. Needham told The Cable. "Given the potential impact of the treaty on American security, Heritage Action is committed to giving Americans a conservative voice in Washington. Our petition drive will empower Americans who oppose the treaty and ensure their senator will take note. It is the first step towards stopping New START."
And Heritage Action is not stopping there. The group has a detailed plan to target lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and persuading wavering senators to oppose the treaty. Votes up for grabs include moderate Republicans like Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, but also conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson, D-NE, and Evan Bayh, D-IN.
The group also intends to put people on the ground in key districts while pressing their supporters to make their opposition to START known to their senators.
The new movement is timed to have an impact just as the drive to ratify New START heats up in the Senate. But the full-throated opposition to START as espoused by Heritage Action and Romney goes beyond the current position of many Senate Republicans who now are at the center of the START ratification debate.
This June 30 letter to Kerry from all the committee Republicans except for ranking member Richard Lugar, R-IN, argues that the Senate needs more time and information to examine the treaty but doesn't argue that the treaty is unacceptable on its face. Even the new agreement's leading Senate critic, Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, hasn't come out to say he opposes the treaty -- at least not yet.
Kerry's July 1 response letter points out that reams of documents on the new treaty have been given to Congress and more are on the way. Congress has already received reports on Russian compliance with the old START treaty up to when it expired last December and a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate on the new agreement, as required by law.
The compliance reports are important because the last report in 2005 revealed Russian cheating. There is also a "verifiability assessment" that State Department sources said will reach the Hill July 12. As for the NIE, sources familiar with the document say it hedges enough that either side could interpret it to fit their own frame. For example, the various levels of "confidence" the intelligence community gave to its assessments don't really help either side because they are so noncommittal.
That leaves only one document for Kyl and other senators to really fight about: their longstanding request for the full negotiating record for the new START treaty, which they suspect would reveal secret deals the administration is accused of making with the Russians regarding missile defense -- something the administration has flatly denied.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have resisted handing over such records, and past administrations have reluctantly agreed to hand them over while warning about the damaging effect such disclosures can have on the executive's ability to conduct negotiations.
Regardless, some GOP offices are prepared to make a big issue out of it. "By continuing to insist, contrary to history and precedent, that it will not share the negotiating record of the treaty, at least as it pertains to tactical nuclear weapons, missile defense and prompt global strike, the administration is simply showing that it isn't serious about getting the treaty ratified," said one senior GOP aide close to the issue.
One administration official said he believes the fight over the record is all about politics. Supporters of the treaty argue that Republicans want to deny Obama a foreign-policy success before the mid-term elections.
"The Republican demand for the negotiating record is akin to throwing mud against the wall to see what sticks ... Because the arguments against the treaty and the nomination are not working, they are just resorting to desperation tactics to create talking points," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World.
Will it work? It's still too early to tell. Nobody seems to know how many votes can be relied upon for ratification, making the next three weeks leading up the August recess, when Kerry intends to move the treaty out of committee, crucial.
Pro-treaty forces already have their own grassroots effort underway, with participation by the Council for a Livable World, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Ploughshares Fund, the Arms Control Association, and Global Zero, a group that has its own movie and petition to support the drive to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.
"The START treaty now figures prominently into what Global Zero is doing," said Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione, who noted that Global Zero has already given out dozens of grants around the country. "This effort alone might dwarf what the Heritage Foundation is doing on a community and grassroots level."
He also pointed to bipartisan groups that are supporting New START, including the Partnership for a Secure America, which rounded up dozens of former officials from both parties to come out and support the agreement.
"There's an ongoing and increasing drive both at the grassroots and elite levels, aimed both at Republicans and Democrats, whereas the Heritage Action effort is only aimed at Republicans, and far right Republicans at that," Cirincione said.
The Obama administration is involved right now in missile defense cooperation talks with Russia, but they are not about setting "limits" on U.S. missile defense deployments, multiple administration officials told The Cable.
The Washington Times' Bill Gertz reported today that "The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses," and said "the administration last month presented a draft agreement on missile defenses to the Russians as part of talks between Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov."
U.S. officials and lawmakers have been calling for formal U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation for decades. When Ronald Reagan unveiled the original plans for missile defense in the 1980's, he repeatedly talked about sharing missile defense technology with Russia as a means toward eventually eliminating offensive strategic ballistic missiles.
Formal talks on cooperation date back to 1992. The most visible sign was the 1997 agreement to start the Russian American Observation Satellite (RAMOS) program.
An administration official explained to The Cable exactly what is going right now. "There is nothing secret about our intentions here," the official said, "Cooperation, not restrictions, on missile defense is the subject of conversations between the United States and Russia leading up to next week's presidential summit."
A "framework" or "draft agreement" is being considered, but it only covers future cooperation, not current deployment plans. The draft also includes data sharing, joint radar systems, and the like, but the U.S. side has been clear that limits on either the quantity or quality of missile defense deployments that fall outside the framework are not on the table. The Obama administration has requested $9.9 billion for missile defense in fiscal year 2011.
The Gertz story became a focus of the Senate Armed Services committee hearing Thursday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Joint Chiefs chairman Michael Mullen.
"We are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations," Gates testified, "but such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans."
Clinton addressed the Gertz story directly.
"Number one, there is no secret deal. Number two, there is no plan to limit U.S. missile defenses, either in this treaty or in any other way. And number three, on that score, the story is dead wrong," she said.
Supporters of the administration's decision last year to alter missile defense plans in Eastern Europe, have argued that the changes could pave the way for U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation.
"The President's decision also opens the door to missile defense cooperation with Russia, which would send a powerful signal to Iran," Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI said, adding that the administration's plan "will not threaten Russia, and it offers an opportunity for missile defense to serve as a uniting issue, rather than a dividing one."
The Russians don't see it that way, yet, but are engaging in the cooperation talks nonetheless.
The debate over missile defense limits is strongly tied to the ongoing drive to seek ratification of the new START nuclear reduction treaty, as today's hearing with Clinton and Gates demonstrated.
Conservative critics of the new START treaty have two missile defense-related gripes, however. They believe that a provision preventing interceptors being mounted on ICBMs is constraining, although the administration has said that is not part of the plan anyway.
They also point to Moscow's unilateral statement reserving their right to withdraw from the treaty if it concludes that U.S. missile defense deployments upset strategic stability. But the administration often points out that either side has the right to withdraw at any time, for any reason.
"It's the equivalent of a press release, and we are not in any way bound by it," Clinton testified.
The preamble to the START treaty acknowledges there is a relationship generally between between offensive and defense forces. "That's simply a statement of fact," Clinton said.
Eastern Europeans in embassies and communities around the capital region are upset today that Virginia's new D-Day memorial monument, unveiled in a ceremony this past week, contains a statue of the head of notorious Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Residents of Bedford, VA, were equally appalled when they found out about the statue, but now the fallout has now reached official Washington. The Cable has heard from multiple embassy officials today that they are getting calls from their local communities complaining about the statue. It's especially disconcerting to European diplomats, whose countries have spent decades scrubbing all traces of communist paraphernalia from their parks and public areas.
"I'm shocked as a European citizen and as a European diplomat," one embassy official said. "It's shocking because this person was responsible for the deaths of millions of people."
For what it's worth, the plaque underneath Stalin's likeness is hardly a tribute to the late communist ruler.
"In memory of the tens of millions who died under Stalin's rule and in tribute to all whose valor, fidelity, and sacrifice denied him and his successors victory in the cold war," it reads.
Sources close to the U.S. and Russian governments confirmed to The Cable Monday that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will visit Washington and meet with President Obama on June 24.
The visit is timed exactly after Obama's stated deadline for finishing up U.N. Security Council action to bring new sanctions against Iran. The State Department has said repeatedly that Obama wants to see the sanctions vote before the end of spring -- June 21 -- and the Medvedev visit would be an opportunity to show unity on that front, or if the process lags, to give it one final push across the finish line.
Putting Iran sanctions in the rear-view mirror will also allow the administration to concentrate on the main accomplishment of Obama's "reset" of U.S. relations with Russia: ratification of the new START nuclear reductions treaty. Russia's desire for a civilian nuclear agreement with the United States, which is the secondary "reset" agenda item right now, is also sure to be discussed.
That agreement, which was first submitted by the Bush administration but pulled after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, was sent back to Congress last month. If Congress doesn't formally object by August, it will go into effect.
A bipartisan effort to block the Russian civilian nuclear agreement is heating up now, led by Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey and Nebraska Republican Jeff Fortenberry, who introduced the House version of the resolution opposing the deal.
Recent reports about the risks of terrorists acquiring Russian nuclear technology have heightened concerns among lawmakers. Hill sources say that a Senate companion measure could surface with bipartisan sponsorship this week.
"Russia continues to train Iranian nuclear physicists, supply to Iran sensitive nuclear technology, and give secret instruction on Russian soil to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on the use of the advanced S-300 interceptor-missile systems," said Markey about the deal.
"As long as I've been in this job, there's been no concern about Russian entities providing nuclear assistance to Iran," the NSC's non-proliferation Czar Gary Samore said earlier this month when talking about the 123 agreement, the shorthand used for civilian nuclear deals because they are based on section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.
State Department officials have said that Moscow's ability to get the deal is tied directly to how helpful the Russians are in securing new sanctions against Iran, so the visit is perfectly timed for the administration to make an argument on that front.
"The White House has publicly stated that the Russian government's cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue will be a significant consideration in making this determination and this continues to be the case," acting Assistant Secretary of State Vann Van Diepen testified last month.
Further details of the Medvedev visit are still being worked out. We've heard but haven't confirmed yet that a State Dinner is in the offing.
Missile defense is as much of a diplomatic initiative as a military one. For the Poles, they see missile defense cooperation with the United States as a great way to build defense ties, bolster their credentials within NATO, and maybe even hedge against their traditional eastern foe, Russia.
What Poland doesn't see is itself as a target of the missile threat from Iran, the country the nascent U.S. missile shield is supposedly designed to thwart.
"If the mullahs have a target list we believe we are quite low on it," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in an interview with Foreign Policy during his trip to Washington Thursday.
Sikorski is in town to meet with a host of officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and National Security Advisor James L. Jones. He also attended the Atlantic Council gala Wednesday night featuring Bono.
When George W. Bush's administration announced its plans to deploy missile defense interceptors in Poland, the system was advertised as needed to counter Iranian missiles headed toward the United States or Europe. The problem was, Bush's plan was designed to counter long-range missiles and actually had little chance of hitting a missile headed from Iran to Europe.
The Obama administration came in and changed the plan, replacing the interceptors with a "phased adaptive approach" that will use smaller, more mobile systems to counter short and medium-range missiles. They advertised that as better suited to protect Europe.
But Sikorski admitted that Poland's real interest in the system is to be an active player in the new emerging security infrastructure in Europe, which includes NATO's endorsement of missile defense.
"Our part of Europe has so far very few NATO installations," he said. "This is the game that seems to be the next project, so we decided to get involved."
Sikorski also commented on the botched rollout of the new missile defense plan by the Obama administration. Back in September, senior U.S. officials scrambled to brief allies after news of the plan was leaked from the European side ahead of the White House's schedule. The unfortunate result was that the plan was announced on the day of the 70th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland.
Poland didn't intend to antagonize Russia by upgrading its ties to NATO and the United States.
"We were willing to give the U.S. a chunk of our territory for this facility, but we weren't particularly looking forward to paying the price with worse relations with Russia," Sikorski said. "The Bush administration had told us, ‘We will fix it with the Russians, we will persuade them that this is no threat to them, don't worry.' And the problem appeared when the Russians appeared to be unpersuaded."
Overall, Poland is satisfied by the level of attention it receives from the Obama administration, despite the perception in some foreign capitals that the White House spends its limited foreign-policy attention span dealing more with problem countries, like Iran, than it does with allies.
"We are not in the business of vying for attention," he said. "We recognize that the U.S. has some serious problems: financial, domestic, and we feel to be fortunate not to be one of those problem areas around the world that need urgent attention."
For Sikorski's thoughts on Poland's recent tragedy and the Gordon Brown immigration controversy, read Joshua Keating's post on FP's Passport blog here.
The State Department's update of its annual list of official terrorist groups is imminent, but the group that just attacked Moscow won't be on the list.
The Caucasus Emirate, which has been waging a jihad against the Russian government, is led by Doku Umarov, who calls himself the "emir of the North Caucasus." He was previously President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, but dissolved that Republic and established the Emirate in its place in 2007 in order to impose sharia law in his territory.
Umarov declared all the way back in 2007 that his group was expanding its struggle to wage war against the United States, Great Britain, and Israel. Last month, he released a video claiming credit for the suicide attacks in Moscow in March that resulted in the deaths of 39 people.
But apparently, the State Department chose not to include Caucasus Emirate in the newest update to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, according to Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-FL, who is calling on the State Department to add the group for the sake of national security and U.S. -Russia relations.
"This is a low profile organization that has continued to carry out high profile acts of terrorism, including the twin bombings in Moscow recently," Hastings told The Cable in an exclusive interview, "They've got a jihad against Russia and the United States. If that ain't a terrorist organization, I don't know what is."
Hastings is introducing a new Congressional resolution Thursday detailing the crimes committed by Caucasus Emirate and urging the State Department to add them to the list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Hastings, who is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), got involved in the issue after hearing about the group from scores of Russian lawmakers. He said listing the group would be an easy win for U.S.-Russian relations.
"President Obama has pressed the reset button, but too often we find ourselves not trying to do things with the Russians," said Hastings, "The State Department has the opportunity to amend the report to include this organization."
Some experts note that there is internal debate within the Chechen rebel community about whether the group's declarations of jihad against the West is really such a good idea.
"It seems that the Caucasian rebels themselves are frightened by their own ‘war declaration' against the West," Andrei Smirnov wrote in an article for the Jamestown Foundation, "The absurdity of the rebels' declarations lies in the fact that they declare war against the West, and at the same time beg for aid in their anti-Russian struggle."
"Whatever the Caucasian rebels say, it is clear that they do not have much in common with the interests of the international Jihadi movement," Smirnov went on, "This movement has no smaller plans than the Jihadi movement worldwide, but it nonetheless limits itself to activities inside Russia's borders and has no ambitions to grow into an international problem."
After President Obama has rolled out his nuclear policy review Tuesday morning, he used his down time to turn his attention to another major nuclear initiative: the Nuclear Security Summit being held in Washington next week.
With 47 world leaders coming to town, Obama simply can't very well schedule one-on-one meetings with all of them -- lest international diplomacy turn into the equivalent of speed dating. Still, the least the president can do is give a phone call to the leaders he's rejecting, and that's what he was doing Tuesday afternoon.
So far, the world leaders Obama has granted an audience to are (in alphabetical order by country): President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia, President Hu Jintao of China, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan, and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev doesn't need a bilateral, because he will have lots of time to hang out with Obama Thursday in Prague when they meet there to sign the new START agreement. Obama just met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week. And British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is skipping the summit to gear up his campaign ahead of the May elections he announced this morning.
So who's not getting face time with Obama? One confirmed rejection is Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who got the consolation phone call from Obama just a few hours ago.
"President Saakashvili thanked President Obama for his invitation to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington," according to a readout of the call from the Georgian side. "President Obama thanked President Saakashvili for Georgia's exceptional commitment of troops to the international effort in Afghanistan."
What Obama didn't mention in the call Georgia's aspirations to join NATO or Georgia's concern about the French sale of a new assault ship to Russia.
Hey, maybe they'll run into each other at the buffet.
So, who are the other countries may be soon getting the rejection call? Looks like the leaders of Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and Vietnam.
Is Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg up or down? In or out? Rising or falling? For all the Kremlinology focused on the top tier of the Obama administration these days, the actual level of Steinberg's influence is hard to pinpoint.
But as Steinberg leaves for the Balkans and Central Europe Monday night, what's clear is that Clinton's No. 2 is engaged in a huge number of diplomatic issues facing the State Department and the Department is making a concerted effort to assert his role and stature in a more public way.
Steinberg gave a rare press conference at the Foreign Press Center last week to brief his upcoming travel to Slovenia, Sarajevo, Serbia, and Kosovo. He also talked at length about his recent trip to China and Japan with NSC Senior Director for Asia Jeffrey Bader.
Some made a big deal about Steinberg's appointments being added to the daily email sent out by State's communications shop each day announcing Clinton's schedule. Whether or not the change in the email actually reflects increased coordination between Clinton and Steinberg's actions is unknown, but the change is a clear sign that State is trying to increase Steinberg's visibility.
For example, through those daily alerts we learned that on March 30 he sat in President Obama's bilateral meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the White House.
Since The Cable first reported that Steinberg had thrown his hat into the search for a new dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service (which he has denied), we've received a ton of email and phone calls from Steinberg defenders and detractors alike. Those close to Steinberg felt our story went too far in repeating the oft-heard speculation that Steinberg is an unhappy camper at State.
There are two conventional story lines about Steinberg's role in the administration, both of them imperfect and at least partially incorrect. One paints him as Obama's mole in Foggy Bottom, because of his frequent visits to the White House and his longstanding ties to many in the White House and the National Security Council. The other somewhat false narrative describes Steinberg as a disgruntled official, lamenting that he didn't get some higher position and pushing to have as much influence as possible.
Our sources paint a more nuanced picture of a man who is energetic and enthusiastic about helping to run the State Department at one of the most dynamic periods of American foreign policy, but also looking forward to a future after government service where he can devote more time to his young family.
Steinberg's wife, Sherburne Abbott, works in the White House for science advisor John Holdren. That means a lot of late nights for both of them. It also means that Steinberg has a very good reason to stay in Washington, rather than returning to University of Texas at Austin, where he had been dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs from 2005 to 2009.
He visits the White House a lot because that was part of his agreement with Obama when taking the job, that he be in the interagency loop at a level similar to a principal, our sources said. Also, with Clinton traveling so much these days, she trusts him to represent State in the principal's level meetings, alternating with the other deputy secretary Jack Lew. Add to that Steinberg's participation in the Deputies Committee meetings, and that adds up to a lot of White House visits.
Many of our State Department sources still complain, privately, that Steinberg's direct involvement in so many policy issues complicates the policy process and sometimes runs afoul of regional bureaus that work underneath him.
As for the length of his tenure, apparently Steinberg told President Obama when he took the job that it would only be for two years, multiple sources said, but it's not clear if that's still his thinking and there's no indication that Obama or Clinton wants to see him go.
Did you know there will be massive human rights protests across Russia this Saturday? Well, John McCain is all over the situation.
McCain, who famously declared "We are all Georgians" during the August War of 2008, gave a speech on the Senate floor calling on all Americans to get involved in the cause of human rights in Russia and lambasting the Kremlin for its harsh treatment of opposition and activist leaders.
"This is about universal values -- values that we in the United States embody but do not own ... values that should shape the conduct of every government, be it ours or Russia's or any other country's," McCain said, "And when we see citizens of conviction seeking to hold their governments to the higher standard of human rights, we should speak up for them."
McCain hasn't given up the cause of the Georgians since the end of the presidential campaign. He visited the country in January and made a stop at the border of the breakaway region of Abkhazia, where Russian troops still remain.
"I know that Washington has a lot of foreign-policy challenges at the moment, but we cannot forget Georgia and the support it deserves amid a continuing threat from its neighbor to the north," he said.
Back in 2008, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declared McCain a "national hero" of Georgia when he visited in January and gave him a Vietnam-war revolver (pictured) that was captured off a Russian soldier at the ceremony.
McCain also recently met with opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Washington. When McCain asked Nemtsov what Americans could do to support human rights activists in Russia, Nemtsov said, "Speak up for it. And speak up for us."
Here's what the State Department's newly released report on human rights practices had to say about Russia:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev next week in Moscow, a State Department official confirms to The Cable.
The meeting will cover ongoing negotiations to finalize the follow-on to the START nuclear reductions treaty as well as other issues of mutual interest. She will not meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who is most publicly criticizing the START negotiations and explicitly trying to tie them to U.S. missile-defense plans in Europe.
President Obama spoke with Medvedev over the phone regarding the START follow on last week, and the New York Times reported that Obama was surprised to learn in the phone call that the two sides were much further apart than he had expected. Forty-four nations will come to Washington in mid-April for a conference on nuclear disarmament and the administration would like to have a new nuke treaty to brag about by then.
"The secretary is going to Moscow for a Quartet meeting regarding the Middle East peace process," State Department P.J. Crowley told The Cable. "She will have a number of meetings while there. I am confident that the subjects will include not only the Middle East, but also Iran, START, and other topics. Our relationship with Russia is about more than one issue."For the latest on the START agreement and its chances of ratification in the Senate, read this.
U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle's recent blog post about ongoing negotiations for a START follow-on agreement does not represent a shift in the U.S. position, despite the articles saying so.
Written in Russian, Beyrle's post says, "The treaty deals with offensive, not defensive systems, but since we acknowledge a logical link between them, our presidents have agreed that the treaty will contain a provision on the interconnection between strategic offensive and defensive weapons."
The Associated Press declared on its own authority that "Beyrle's statement indicated the U.S. stance has shifted," and that "Beyrle's statement apparently reflects an attempt by Washington to overcome Russia's suspicions of the U.S. missile defence plans."
Not so, say our State Department sources, who point out that Beyrle was simply referring to the July 8 Joint Understanding between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which said that the START follow-on would include "a provision on the interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms," nothing more, nothing less.
Multiple senior administration officials have told The Cable that this carefully negotiated compromise was well understood to mean that missile defense would be delinked from the START negotiations -- and that was the assumption the American team led by Rose Gottemoeller was working under.
Moreover, the July 6 joint statement of Obama and Medvedev made it clear that missile defense would be dealt with separately from the START follow-on talks.
"Beyrle's post simply refers to what both presidents said they would do in July," one administration official said.
Recent statements by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Russian military leader Nikolai Makarov have brought the missile-defense issue back into the discussion over a START follow-on treaty. State Department officials have indicated that the specifics of a reference to missile defense in the agreement might not be finalized.
"It's possible that the treaty text will refer to missile defense, but I can't do a play by play," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Thursday. But Beyrle's blog post is not an announcement of any such shift, and negotiations over the remaining details in the treaty are ongoing.
Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for the issue formerly known as Af-Pak, will visit Georgia "shortly," with plans to finalize the deployment of Georgian troops to Afghanistan.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg revealed that Holbrooke will go to Georgia while traveling in Tbilisi Friday. Sources said the current thinking is that the visit will occur toward the end of February.
So what will Holbrooke be doing there? Well, in addition to possibly discussing Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili's offer to allow his country to become a supply route to Afghanistan, which Steinberg reportedly said was a Pentagon matter, Georgian sources tell The Cable that Holbrooke will be putting the final touches on the plan to deploy Georgian troops to Afghanistan in March.
In Georgia, they are calling it the "Holbrooke Brigade," according to a source close to the Georgian government. The plan is for 750 Georgian troops to be deployed in Helmand province at the personal request of Gen. David Petraeus, the source said, who was impressed with their effectiveness along the Iranian border during operations in Iraq. According to the current plan, they will be under U.S. command and supplementing 350 Georgian troops already in country as part of the International Security Assistance Force.
It will be the largest per-capita contribution of any country in Afghanistan other than the U.S. One lingering question that the Georgians plan to raise with Holbrooke is whether the U.S. will offer them any military aid for the mission. The U.S. has not provided any lethal military aid to Georgia since their war with Russian in 2008, but the Georgians may need some items, such as parts for the U.S.-made M4 rifles they will be using in the Afghanistan mission.
In a December report, Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, argued for an end to the unofficial ban of U.S. lethal military aid to Georgia, arguing that the increase of Russian arms near there was dangerously tipping the balance.
"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," the report stated. "Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."
Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic is a fascinating man. After rising to prominence at an early age as an ally of Slobodan Milosevic, Djukanovic turned against the Serbian leader in 1996 and became the key figure in Montenegro's push for sovereignty and independence from the former Yugoslavian states.
He has been a controversial figure in European politics, facing charges of organized crime and extensive cigarette trafficking, but has always managed to come out of the fray unharmed. Now in his third stint as the head of government, Djukanovic is leading Montenegro's push for NATO membership.
His country has just been granted Membership Action Plan status for NATO membership, a step neither Georgia nor Ukraine has been afforded. That was the main issue on the agenda when Djukanovic came to Washington last month to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joseph Biden, and lawmakers.
Following his meetings, Dukanovic sat down for an exclusive interview with The Cable. Here are some excerpts:
JR: So, can you tell me about your meetings with Secretary of State Clinton and Vice President Biden? What was your message to them? And what was their message to you?
MD: My message to them was actually very simple. Montenegro is steadily moving towards its European and Euro-Atlantic goals. We are pleased that you have announced renewed and stronger presence in the Balkans from the United States and we stand ready to be your partners in dealing with the remaining outstanding issues in our region.
Their message was one of tribute to Montenegro for what it has done thus far, recognition for what we have done and also appreciation for Montenegro's readiness to participate in Afghanistan and other critical places where the support of the international community is needed. Their message was a readiness to continue to support Montenegro towards full membership in NATO. These messages were very encouraging for us.
JR: Montenegro has received MAP status for joining NATO. So many other countries have sought this status, but your country has advanced farther than them. What is the secret? Why is your country been more successful?
MD: Unlike others, Montenegro managed to preserve internal peace and to spare itself from war in its territory -- that was our first advantage. The second advantage was in the fact that we pursued realpolitik. This is something that should seem natural, but I will tell you that this is an advantage, especially in our region, which is so obsessed with history and false ideas of one's historic importance.... In short, we did not engage in any wrong topics. All this allowed us to focus on key tasks, this is why Montenegro's progress comes as no surprise.
JR: What have you heard from the U.S. government about the schedule for your country joining NATO? Do you expect this soon? What are the obstacles between here and there?
MD: So the most important message that I heard in yesterday's talks with Secretary Clinton and from Vice President Biden was that all countries of the Balkans ... should be part of NATO and the EU when they fulfill the conditions for that. Also, Vice President Biden said that ... they should become members when they continue to fulfill and have conducted the necessary reforms. At the same time, they feel very confident that Montenegrins have the capacity to fulfill these requirements.
JR: My understanding is that you will deploy troops to Afghanistan soon in what is a small contingent, but the first presence of Montenegrin troops. Please explain why you have made this decision to deploy troops to Afghanistan. Do you believe that this is in your country's security interest? Or is this more about building relationships with America and other Western countries?
MD: I do think that the threat of terrorism is global and this is something that, sooner or later, threatens everybody. I think that it makes more sense to support the fight against this scourge at a time when that seems to be a danger that is not so close to home. Besides, of course we feel we need to demonstrate to America and others our readiness to be a part of this democratic coalition. Because this indeed confirms our readiness not just to enjoy the privileges one has as a member of NATO, but also to fulfill obligations resulting from such a status.
JR: Regarding the institutions of your country: Did the officials or lawmakers raise issues of corruption and what did they ask of you regarding tackling corruption in your country? And how did you answer them?
MD: I brought up these issues ... Our most important task remains to enhance the quality of life of our citizens. This task is closely linked with the continued and further presence of foreign investments in Montenegro.... So, thinking what the next package of advantages we as a state need to offer to foreign investors or potential investors. Our conviction is that this is better legal security and enhanced rule of law and because of that, the rule of law and tackling corruption and crime efficiently remains an important priority for us.
JR: At one time, you were much more eastward looking, and now you are much more westward looking. As you look now at Russia, how would you describe the path they have taken on the same issues: corruption, human rights, and economic freedom?
MD: I would first like to say that an important part of the Montenegrin tradition is cooperation with Russia, cooperation between our countries. We recently spoke of three centuries of official relations between Montenegro and Russia. On the other hand, Montenegro, totally logically, is moving toward Europe to be part of Europe and of NATO. This, I think, is something that is very appropriate for the whole region in which we live. But we don't think we should abandon some traditional friends. One does not exclude the other.
JR: You mentioned that you've seen that the administration has announced increased engagement in the Balkans. Have you seen that increased engagement implemented and, if so, what are some example of that increase?
MD: I would say that this is best illustrated by the Bosnian example. As you know, America is together with Europe a co-author of this so-called Bosnia Peace Process, which should lead to a constitutional reform resulting in a viable Bosnia for the future. Also, it seems to me that there is a very visible interest in the United States strengthening the position of Kosovo. We also know that for some years know the United States has been demonstrating an interest that the dispute between Macedonia and Greece be overcome, thereby creating the full integration of Macedonia into NATO. As you know, these are precisely the three outstanding issues in our region which prevent us from being to say that the Balkans is definitely a stable place.
JR: What do you think of the effectiveness of the foreign policy of the Obama administration after one year?
MD: As a citizen of Europe, I feel (with my very frequent contact with various people in Europe starting with European statesmen) that American foreign policy indeed gives us great encouragement and hope in Europe. It is my opinion not only in Europe. I hope that President Obama and his administration will have enough time to implement their very highly set goals in terms of foreign policy, to implement them consistently and to contribute to something that the whole world will benefit from.
With Barack Obama's pledge to rid the world of nuclear weapons faltering out of the starting gate, leaders of the arms-control community convened a major meeting Tuesday to gear up for their biggest fights in years. The next few months will be critical, insiders say, with a number of key international treaties up for renewal and battle lines being drawn in Washington and abroad.
About 50 senior think tank and advocacy executives packed the K Street conference room of the Ploughshares Fund to strategize and rally the troops for the upcoming policy war. "This is going to be the fight of our lives," Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione told The Cable shortly after the meeting concluded.
A huge part of the effort will be to hold the administration to the ambitious arms-control agenda President Obama laid out in his Prague speech last April.
"The debate on Washington on these issues has been dominated by the conservatives because the administration has yet to take the field," Cirincione said. "That's about to change ... finally!"
The next six months will see either the significant advancement or the defeat of a host of arms-control priorities. The agenda includes ratification of the still-pending START follow-on agreement with Russia, the February release of the president's budget, the March release of the Nuclear Posture Review, a major summit on nuclear terrorism in Washington in April, and the Nonproliferation Treaty conference in May. A push for U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is also coming.
The Obama administration has been occupied with other crises and not eager to take on nuclear issues despite a heartfelt belief in their merit, Cirincione said. "They want to play it safe." The administration's window for action is open but small. By the end of summer, the congressional elections will crowd out Washington's bandwidth.
"If it doesn't get done by July, it doesn't get done," he said.
So the meeting, which included representatives from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Arms Control Association, the Council for a Livable World, the Federation of American Scientists, and others, was about marshalling those organizations' combined resources and preparing a full-on campaign to press their shared goals now.
The loosely organized group's strategy is fourfold: Push out facts and talking points supporting nuclear-weapons reductions into the press, increase the profile of the military, business, and religious leaders who back lower numbers of nuclear weapons, push sympathetic senators to be more active, and rally potential allies to the cause.
"There's really no secret to how you go about doing this, Cirincione said. "The trick is actually doing it." Crucial Senate allies include John Kerry, D-MA, Robert Casey, D-PA, Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Jack Reed, D-RI, and Byron Dorgan, D-ND, while conservatives such as Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and James Inhofe, R-OK, are set to press the administration for maximum concessions before letting any arms control action go through the Senate.
The advocates worry that such conservatives have controlled the debate over arms control, and that they need to shift to more of a hard-nosed Washington approach in response. Sources noted that Ploughshares has hired the Glover Park Group public relations firm to aid its messaging.
There's also a growing realization that continued delays in the negotiations over the START follow-on agreement with Russia mean that time is running out before the summer election season begins.
An agreement with the Russians could come this month, with debate in the Senate by the end of March. But, as The Cable has previously reported, another Senate debate over CTBT before July is seen as much more unlikely.
Regardless, the arms-control community is girding for the fight. "It was a call to action meeting and this high-level group is primed to put the expertise and resources of our organizations behind the effort," said the Arms Control Association's Daryl Kimball.
The Obama administration's rollout of its new nuclear strategy will be delayed until March, the Pentagon told Congress last week.
The notification came in the form of a letter from Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller to Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services committee, respectively. The letter, obtained by The Cable, said that the new strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, will be delivered to Congress on March 1, not Feb. 1 as was previously planned.
The announcement comes amid reports that the NPR is mired in an internal administration debate over some key issues, such as whether or not to abandon a "first use" policy, how many nuclear weapons are needed for whatever missions the NPR identifies as crucial, and how far the review will go toward advancing President Obama's stated goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.
But arms-control advocates see the delay as not so surprising (what review isn't delayed in Washington?) and they argue that the postponement will give the administration more time to give the NPR the senior-level attention it deserves.
"It's not particularly surprising. I believe it's due to the fact that principals haven't been able to really dig in to the substantive issues of the NPR," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
Some who favor sharp reductions and more commitments to a nuclear drawdown see the delay as one last chance to have their views considered by the White House and the National Security Council, which may have a different take than the Pentagon on some issues. For example, the Pentagon is said to be against adopting a "no first use" policy and may still be pushing for a new class of nuclear warhead.
The Bush administration program to build a new warhead, called the Reliable Replacement Warhead, is dead, senior administration officials such as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher have said repeatedly. But Tauscher and other have also indicated that they would present a budget in February that meets Senate Republican calls for "stockpile modernization," although there is no consensus on what that means.
"The trouble in the debate is that the term ‘modernization' gets used to describe a number of things, from new weapons to improvements to the nuclear weapons complex, and other things as well," said John Isaacs, executive director at the Council for a Livable World, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the goal of zero nuclear weapons that Obama announced in his Prague speech.
All 40 Senate Republicans and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman penned a letter to Obama in December specifically outlining several points they said must be included in the stockpile modernization program, which they are demanding in order to support the follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, which is being negotiated now.
The relationship between the NPR and the START follow-on agreement is an interesting one. It would seem that the administration would have to know its overall nuclear policy before negotiating weapons levels, and yet the START agreement may come out before the NPR.
Administration officials have told The Cable that the NPR tasked out a set of weapons numbers to inform the START negotiations months ago, so there shouldn't be any problem. Besides, the NPR is setting policy for future reductions, not just those to be agreed to in this negotiation, experts point out.
But for Senate Republicans, that explanation is simply not enough.
"The key thing for senators is, they do not understand how officials are in Geneva discussing force-level reductions and meanwhile the NPR is apparently delayed," said one senior GOP senate aide, adding that the GOP was not being briefed on the NPR's progress.
Meanwhile, the aide said that the follow-on START agreement could be ratified in the Senate only if the stockpile-management aspects of the president's budget meet the demands in the letter and if there is no link between START and missile defense, despite statements from the Russian side.
"If we wanted to kill the treaty, we would just let them negotiate a bad treaty and then kill it in the Senate," the aide said. "We're trying to help them come up with a treaty that can pass muster in the Senate."
UPDATE: Lt. Col. Jonathan Withingon, spokesman for the Pentagon policy shop, e-mails in this explanation in response to our request for an explanation for the delay. "As we're nearing completion, the Department requires additional time to appropriately address the range of complex issues under consideration in the Nuclear Posture Review."
President Obama today nominated of Philip Coyle, a leading critic of Bush administration missile defense schemes, to be a top White House scientific advisor.
Coyle, who was the head weapons tester at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, was nominated to become the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. There he will lead a team tasked with giving scientific advice to Obama on a range of national security issues and will report to Director John Holdren.
Since his last tour at the Pentagon, Coyle has been a leading analyst on weapons systems for the Center for Defense Information, a component of the World Security Institute, a defense-minded think thank. From that perch, he's been actively involved in several of the national security debates involving advanced technology and a staunch watchdog on the missile defense system the Bush administration rushed to deploy throughout its tenure.
Coyle has often pointed out that the testing done by the Pentagon on ballistic missile defense components since 2001 has been either shoddy or thin. Moreover, he has repeatedly questioned the basic rationale for investing billions to deploy ballistic missile defense around the world, especially in Eastern Europe.
"In my view, Iran is not so suicidal as to attack Europe or the United States with missiles," he testified before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee in February, "But if you believe that Iran is bound and determined to attack Europe or America, no matter what, then I think you also have to assume that Iran would do whatever it takes to overwhelm our missile defenses, including using decoys to fool the defenses, launching stealthy warheads, and launching many missiles, not just one or two."
Coyle has often argued that the Bush administration rushed to deploy missile defense systems around the world to build momentum and keep money flowing into the program. He has repeatedly said that the Missile Defense Agency has been amassing hardware that is either not aligned with the threat or can't be relied on in case of an actual emergency.
Over $120 billion has been spent on ballistic missile defense since its inception during the Reagan administration.
Coyle's views line up with Ellen Tauscher, who was then the subcommittee chairwoman but who is now Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, which oversees missile defense diplomacy.
Tauscher was part of the decision making process that led to huge changes in the Bush administration plans for missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Obama plan now calls for more short and medium range systems, most of them mobile. These are changes Coyle has also supported.
Coyle must now be confirmed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The vetting and confirmation process could take months.
At the start of its hearing this morning, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee established a quorum, held a "business meeting," and favorably reported out these diplomatic nominations, all by voice vote. The full Senate must now confirm, but no schedule for that has been set.
1. Michael H. Posner, of New York, to be assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor
2. David C. Jacobson, of Illinois, to be ambassador to Canada
3. Alan D. Solomont, of Massachusetts, to be ambassador to Spain, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as ambassador to Andorra
4. Robert D. Hormats, of New York, to be under secretary of state for economic, energy, and agricultural affairs
5. Also Robert D. Hormats (who is wearing multiple hats) to be United States Alternate Governor of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development for a term of five years; United States Alternate Governor of the Inter-American Development Bank for a term of five years; United States Alternate Governor of the African Development Bank for a term of five years; United States Alternate Governor of the African Development Fund; United States Alternate Governor of the Asian Development Bank; and United States Alternate Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
6. Lee A. Feinstein, of Virginia, to be ambassador to the Republic of Poland
7. Barry B. White, of Massachusetts, to be ambassador to Norway
There were several reports today characterizing the Obama administration's overhaul of the plan to deploy missile defense in Eastern Europe as a complete "scrapping" of the system, but the administration and arms control advocates are pushing back, trying to reframe the move as an adjustment, not a complete withdrawal.
"Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
True, the long-range interceptors planned for Poland are not going to happen, but they will be replaced with shorter-range Standard Missile-3s (SM-3s), both on land and at sea, the administration detailed in a document distributed ahead of Obama's announcement.
"The plan provides for the defense of U.S. deployed forces, their families, and our Allies in Europe sooner and more comprehensively than the previous program, and involves more flexible and survivable systems," the document states.
Of course, that means the Eastern European system won't be able to defend the United States from long-range missiles fired from Iran, which was the whole idea in the first place.
But a senior administration official, speaking to The Cable on background basis before the announcement occurred, said that the missile interceptors currently in the ground at Fort Greely, Alaska, provide enough protection from that threat.
Nevertheless, senior Republican senators like John McCain (Ariz.), Jon Kyl, (Ariz.), and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) are sure to raise hell in the Senate, possibly complicating the pending passage of the defense authorization and appropriations bills.
McCain said in a statement: "I am disappointed with the administration's decision to cancel plans to develop missile defenses in Eastern Europe. This decision calls into question the security and diplomatic commitments the United States has made to Poland and the Czech Republic, and has the potential to undermine perceived American leadership in Eastern Europe."
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, is concerned that allies Poland and the Czech Republic are being hung out to dry, as reported in The Cable last night.
Senior administration officials are in Europe today, including defense undersecretary for policy Michèle Flournoy, state undersecretary for arms control Ellen Tauscher, and assistant defense secretary for international security affairs Alexander Vershbow.
Gates said that they are talking with the Poles and Czechs about hosting other missile-defense components, such as the SM-3 missiles. He argued that the shorter-range missile should mean the Russians can't "rationally" argue that the system threatens them.
Sources close to the Russian government told The Cable that Russia was viewing the decision favorably but were concerned about the perception that the decision was all about Russia.
"Although we can expect certain conservatives in Washington to excoriate the administration for 'caving' to Russian demands on this, that was never really an issue," the source said, adding "but they tried to leverage that decision diplomatically in terms of Russian help on Iran" (which apparently they didn't get).
One open question is, will the Russians be happy with the new location of the X-band radar site the Czechs thought they were getting?
"It's probably more likely to be in the Caucasus," Gates said.
Olaf Osica, a fellow at Warsaw's Natolin European Centre, a defense think tank, said that even this will be a political setback for Poland, which was trying to build its profile in Europe and also show strength vis-à-vis Russia.
"For Poland it's not a problem when it comes to security and defense; missile defese has nothing to do with our national security," he said. "However we tried to build a link between missile defense and Russia."
A senior GOP Senate aide tells The Cable that despite the many bellicose statements by Republicans today about Obama's new missile defense scheme, lawmakers have no concrete plans to take legislative steps to try to stall the initiative.
"In the end, there's probably nothing we can do about it," the aide said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.