The House GOP funding bill currently under debate would slash over $1 billion from the government agencies that work to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists -- money that Senate Republicans fought to increase only last fall during the debate over the New START treaty with Russia.
The continuing resolution (CR) that the House is expected to pass this week would reduce the administration's $11.2 billion request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by $1.1 billion, or 10 percent. The NNSA maintains the nation's nuclear stockpile, runs the nuclear lab complex, and fights the illegal trade of nuclear technology and material. Non-proliferation programs face the most drastic reductions.
Ironically, Senate Republicans spent much of last year pressing the Obama administration over new increases in NNSA spending on nuclear modernization. Led by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the GOP successfully convinced Obama to pledge $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nuclear stockpile as part of the deal to ratify New START. Kyl ultimately voted no on the treaty.
The House GOP funding proposal has angered non-proliferation advocates. "House Republicans are being penny wise and pound foolish," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World.
The House leadership has exempted "security" spending from their proposed cuts in the bill, but the NNSA is part of the Energy Department and so falls outside of the GOP's definition.
"Part of the problem is the indiscriminate budget cutting by House Republicans that reduces all programs except those strictly labeled defense, even though they are hacking away at the most useful federal program to prevent the gravest threat to the United States, nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists," Isaacs said.
When the House sends the bill over to the Senate next week, Senate Republicans will push to restore the NNSA funding, multiple congressional aides close to the process told The Cable.
"The House GOP wasn't a part of any of the START-modernization discussions and there hasn't been time to get them up to speed," said one senior GOP Senate aide, who also blamed the Democrats for failing to complete any FY 2011 spending bill before last November's elections.
The House GOP proposal would cut $647 million, or 24 percent, from the $2.7 billion request for NNSA's nuclear nonproliferation activities; would cut $312 million, or 4.5 percent, from the $7 billion request for its weapons activities; and would cut $103 million, or 10 percent, of the $1.1 billion request for NNSA's naval nuclear reactor program.
The cuts in the non-proliferation budget would delay Obama's initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years, which was the focus of the 44-nation Nuclear Security Summit he hosted in Washington last April, a senior administration official told The Cable.
On Feb. 14, President Obama requested $11.78 billion for NNSA in fiscal 2012, an increase of 5.1 percent from the $11.2 billion requested for fiscal 2011. NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino defended that increase in a speech at the annual meeting of the Energy Communities Alliance annual meeting on Thursday.
"Despite the economic challenges facing our nation and the budget pressures being felt throughout the federal government, the president demonstrated his commitment to our mission by proposing an unprecedented investment in ensuring the nuclear security of our country and our allies," he said. "That investment is a reflection of his vision for our nation, and of the critical role we play."
The U.S. intelligence community has completed and is circulating a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear weapons program that walks back the conclusion of the 2007 NIE, which stated that Iran had halted work on its covert nuclear weapons program.
Intelligence officials briefed executive branch policymakers on the revised NIE last week. The document is being shared with members of Congress and their staff this week, an administration official and several Capitol Hill sources told The Cable. This is in advance of an early March meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors, where there may be another resolution on Iran's nuclear program, the official said.
The 2007 NIE was attacked in public due to its conclusion: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." The new estimate might not directly contradict that judgment, Hill sources report, but could say that while the intelligence community has not determined that Iran has made the strategic decision to build a nuclear weapon, it is working on the components of such a device.
Several sources said they are being told there will be no declassified version of the new NIE, and that only those cleared to read the full 2007 NIE (pdf) will be able to see the new version.
"It does exist," House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in an interview with The Cable. Rogers said the administration was right to take its time to revise the 2007 NIE before releasing the updated version. "Intelligence is a fluid thing, sometimes you get great stuff and sometimes you don't get great stuff to make good conclusions. I think they were prudent in what they've done."
House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) told The Cable he had heard the new NIE would walk back the controversial conclusions of the 2007 version, but that he hadn't read it yet. Regardless, he said, the 2007 Iran NIE was now obsolete and discredited.
"Nobody had been paying attention to the older NIE. A few people on the outside focused on it because they didn't want us to go down the sanctions route but neither the administration nor the Congress paid it much attention," Berman said. "I thought the NIE estimate then was a faulty one because it focused on some aspects of weaponization -- even as Iran was continuing to enrich."
Revelations that Iran had a secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom, which occurred after the release of the 2007 NIE, were further proof that the Iranian regime was pursing nuclear weapons, Berman said. Regardless, the Obama administration has disregarded the 2007 Iran NIE, he said.
"For a year and a half the administration has been convinced that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapon. That's what they whole sanctions push is based on," Berman said. "There can be no serious doubt that Iran wants to have a nuclear weapons capability."
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a former intelligence officer for the U.S. Navy, told The Cable, "The 2007 NIE was a mistake," and this document appears to be more realistic. He urged the intelligence community to take a less technical and more comprehensive look at the Iranian leadership's actions when making such judgments.
"My hope is that the current leaders of the intelligence community look not just at technical details and also comment regularly on Iran's leaders," Kirk said. "In Intelligence 101 we are taught to measure both capability and intent politically, and the intent here on the part of the Iranian regime is pretty clear."
Several lawmakers refused to discuss the new NIE because it was classified or because they hadn't read it yet. Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable he had been briefed on the new NIE, but declined to comment on its contents. Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told The Cable she hadn't yet seen the new NIE but planned to review it soon.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the conclusions in the 2007 NIE, contended that the old estimate was misconstrued as an attempt by its authors to head off an attack against Iran by the Bush administration.
"I think it was interpreted incorrectly," Levin told The Cable.
The NIE is compiled by the National Intelligence Council, but rollout and classification decisions are ultimately made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The crisis in Egypt is occupying the time and attention of top administration officials to such an extent that Obama foreign policy critic Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is now representing the United States on a non-proliferation panel at the Munich Security Conference in Munich this weekend.
Kyl replaces National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, who was originally scheduled to speak on Saturday afternoon to represent the U.S. perspective, on a panel entitled, "Nonproliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament: What's next?" Donilon will remain in Washington as the White House continues to work around the clock on the Egypt crisis. The conference organizers chose Kyl, who is in Munich already, to replace Donilon.
The choice is perplexing because Kyl, who led the vociferous GOP opposition to the New START nuclear reductions pact with Russia, has been the most active and effective critic of the Obama administration's non-proliferation agenda. He has also worked to raise concerns about the administration's missile defense plans, its civilian nuclear agreements, and he is promising to stand in the way of the administration's next arms control agenda item, the Congressional Test Ban Treaty.
The conference organizers bypassed top Obama administration arms control officials who will also be in Munich, including Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They, along with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), will all be sitting in the audience as Kyl tells the assembled world leaders in Munich how he sees the future of arms control in the United States.
Many in the State Department are not happy with this turn of events, and wonder why the German organizers bypassed the administration officials. "We're floored," one State Department official said. "It's odd on many levels."
Requests for comment from the conference organizers and the National Security Council were not immediately returned.
So what will Kyl's message be in Munich? Here's an excerpt from his remarks on the topic last May at the Nixon Center:
Bottom line: there is no evidence our moral leadership in arms control and disarmament will convince countries to set aside their calculations of the impact of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism on their national security, and help us address these threats.
The Administration's security agenda is based on the notion of the U.S. making substantive changes to our national security posture in the hopes of persuading others to act, frequently contrary to their economic or security interests.
But this good faith assumption that others will reciprocate is not supported by any evidence -- it is certainly not informed by any past experience....
As you can tell by now, I am not much impressed with the notion that we can achieve important U.S. security goals by leadership which stresses concession by the U.S. Rather than change and hope, I adhere to the philosophy of President Reagan epitomized in the words -peace through strength.
A strong America is the best guarantor of a peaceful world that has ever been known. And there is nothing immoral about strength that keeps the peace.
UPDATE: Tauscher was added to the billet and spoke on the panel alongside Kyl. Our sources report that the panel went were and there were no real fireworks between Tauscher and Kyl.
President Barack Obama signed the New START nuclear reductions pact with Russia today at the White House, but no remarks were made and no reporters were allowed into the room.
The White House allowed only still photographs of the signing ceremony, which was attended by Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Casey (D-PA), Scott Brown (R-MA), and Mike Johanns (R-NE) were invited, but unable to attend.
The private signing ceremony stood in stark contrast to the deluge of high-level publicity the administration gave to the drive to ratify New START, which included press events, speeches, and the like by everybody from President Obama on down through his administration. The White House did not respond to a question about whether the ceremony was closed because of the ongoing crisis in Egypt, but the White House Correspondents Association believes it was only the latest White House maneuver to keep senior officials away from the press as Egypt events unfold.
The WHCA wrote to spokesman Robert Gibbs on Wednesday to complain about the decision.
"On behalf of the White House Correspondents Association we are writing to protest in the strongest possible terms the White House's decision to close the President's Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and his signing of the START Treaty today to the full press pool," the WHCA Board wrote. "The START treaty was held up as one of the President's most important foreign policy priorities for almost a year dating back to the trip to Prague last spring."
The White House press corps, which has had a rocky relationship with Gibbs for a long time, sees this as the latest example of the White House failing to provide the media with regular access to officials and information since the beginning of the Egypt crisis.
"Prior to the President's statement Tuesday night, the press corps had not received a substantive update from the White House all day on the situation in Egypt. In addition, the press corps did not have an on-camera briefing, or an off-camera gaggle, with you yesterday to ask the White House about its decision-making process during this major foreign policy crisis," the WHCA board wrote. "Now for two straight days the full press pool is being shut out of events that have typically been open and provided opportunities [to] try to ask the President a question."
Clinton will exchange the articles of ratification for New START with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Feb. 5 in Munich, after which the treaty will officially enter into force.
The common perception on Capitol Hill is that China is not doing its part to support the international community's drive to halt Iran's emerging nuclear program. Not so, two senior administration officials said on Wednesday, as they praised China's action on Iran in a conference call with reporters on President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington.
The Chinese have stopped new investments in Iran's energy sector, improved their controls over weapons technology exports to Iran, and Chinese state-owned corporations are not backfilling business opportunities left open by other countries that are leaving Iran, the senior administration officials said. The officials also explained that the Iran issue has been at the top of the agenda on the U.S.-China relationship and that's partly why Beijing's behavior on Iran has improved.
"In all the meetings between the president and President Hu and our high-level interactions, there was no issue that occupied as much time and attention as Iran. It was absolutely at the top of the agenda in pretty much every meeting," one of the senior administration officials said, explaining that recent Chinese action vis-à-vis Iran "demonstrates positive results of that focus."
One of the top concerns in Congress right now about the U.S.-China relationship is that Beijing is not enforcing international arms sanctions against Iran and that Chinese companies have not stopped doing business with Iran's energy sector. Last week, two leading senators wrote to President Barack Obama warning that if the administration doesn't enforce U.S. sanctions law on Chinese companies, Congress will act.
"In fact, in the last seven months since the passage of the resolution I'm not aware of any new Chinese investments in the energy sector," another senior administration official said, apparently not counting ongoing deals between China and Iran to develop gas fields as "new". "That's an important development and it's an important signal to Iran."
"You do not see the kind of backfilling that might undercut the sanctions regime," the first official said.
Regarding exports of missile technology to Iran, one of the officials said that China "essentially adhere[s] to the guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime," which is meant to stop sensitive weapons transfers, despite the fact that China is not a member of that regime.
"China has done a great deal to improve its export control regime in order to try to block such exports," the official said. "There are gaps in China's enforcement. China's enforcement is still problematic... We don't see that as willful action by the Chinese government but as gaps in their system, which we urge them to correct."
In October, the Washington Post reported that U.S. officials had given the Chinese government a list of Chinese companies believed to be breaking international sanctions on arms transfers, including by giving them technology to help their missile and nuclear programs.
Both officials also touted Chinese support for U.N. Security Council resolution 1929, which one official described as "much stronger sanctions than anyone anticipated would pass, or that China would sign on to."
The senators don't agree that the Chinese government is willingly moving to end those abuses and in their letter, they cited numerous reports that China is supplying crucial materials to aid Iran's nuclear and missile programs and alleged that Beijing continues to give monetary and material support to Iran's energy sector, including the delivery of refined petroleum products, which does not violate U.N. sanctions but could provoke penalties under U.S. laws passed by Congress, including the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act that Obama signed into law in July, 2010.
The senators specifically named the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC) as firms that could be subject to U.S. penalties.
"We urge you to warn President Hu that the U.S. will be forced to sanction these companies if they do not quickly suspend their ties with Iran," the senators wrote.
Last October, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report that identified 16 companies as having sold petroleum products to Iran between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Of those 16, the GAO reported that five have shown no signs of curtailing business with Iran. Three of those companies are based in China, one in Singapore, and one in the UAE.
But the joint statement issued on Wednesday by Obama and Hu made no mention of the U.S. sanctions law that could result in congressionally imposed penalties on Chinese companies. Here's the totality of what it said on Iran:
On the Iranian nuclear issue, the United States and China reiterated their commitment to seeking a comprehensive and long-term solution that would restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. Both sides agreed that Iran has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and that Iran should fulfill its due international obligations under that treaty. Both sides called for full implementation of all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. The United States and China welcomed and will actively participate in the P5+1 process with Iran, and stressed the importance of all parties - including Iran - committing to a constructive dialogue process.
UPDATE: A senior GOP Senate aide responds to the administration officials' comments with considerable skepticism:
"These senior Administration officials continue to obfuscate and misdirect. Chinese entities are clearly in violation of the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) and the Comprehensive Iran Sanction, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA)," the aide said. "If the administration doesn't act soon, it faces the loss of its waiver authority and investigatory discretion on these matters."
The Obama administration is negotiating civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with a host of countries around the world. But Congress will intervene to try to stop some of those deals, if House Foreign Relations Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen but has anything to say about it.
Ros-Lehtinen, the Cuban-American firebrand who took over the committee last week, has promised to fight the administration's foreign policy agenda on a wide range of fronts. On her first day, she pledged to take an axe to the State Department's budget, and last month she single-handedly killed the bill to make opposition to forced child marriages an element of U.S. foreign policy. Her next target is the Atomic Energy Act (AEA), the law that governs civilian nuclear agreements -- commonly known as "123" agreements for the section of the AEA governing them.
Ros-Lehtinen is angry that the U.S. entered into a 123 agreement with Russia this month. The administration submitted the agreement to Congress last May. Ros-Lehtinen introduced a resolution to stop it during the previous congressional session, but the resolution never came up for a vote in the Democratic-led House. The deal consequently went through after the 90-day waiting period expired.
"The U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement that went into effect this week never got a vote in Congress," Ros-Lehtinen said Thursday. "The Atomic Energy Act must be reformed so that these far-reaching and potentially dangerous agreements are required to receive an up-or-down vote in Congress before going into effect."
She also promised that her bill would require the administration to certify that a country has met a number or requirements before signing a nuclear deal with the United States, and to verify that the deal would advance U.S. interests.
Ros-Lehtinen said that Russia did not deserve that "concession" due to what she calls its ongoing support of Iran's nuclear program. She specifically mentioned its assistance in building and fueling the Bushehr nuclear plant, even though George W. Bush's administration actually supported that project.
She also criticized Russia for continuing "to shield Iran from U.S. and international sanctions and taking other actions that undermine U.S. interests around the world, such as selling weapons to Syria and signing a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Burmese regime, which is a North Korea nuclear partner."
In Ros-Lehtinen's view, the administration has given several "concessions" to Russia already, including the New START nuclear reductions pact, changes in European missile defense plans, and exempting Russian companies from Iranian sanctions.
Others in Congress opposed the Russia 123 agreement, including Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. That loose coalition could create problems for the administration if and when it completes new 123 agreements.
The next countries in line for 123 agreements are Vietnam and Jordan, and their deals promise to face a different criticism than the agreement with Russia. Critics in both parties on Capitol Hill are set to press the administration to include bans on plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment in the deals, and those countries aren't likely to agree.
The administration painted itself into a corner on this issue when it hailed the 2009 123 agreement with the UAE as the "gold standard," because it included the provisions banning enrichment. But team Obama then hit a wall when Vietnam refused to agree to the same prohibitions. Jordan as well has indicated it wants to preserve what it views as its right to produce nuclear fuel sometime in the future.
If the administration insists on the prohibitions now, it risks causing the pending deals with Vietnam and Jordan to unravel in the short term, and perhaps losing out on other potential deals in the longer term. If the administration backs down and signs agreements without nuclear fuel production restrictions, it will cause a bipartisan uproar on Capitol Hill.
Inside the administration, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman has been arguing for months that the administration should just get rid of the enrichment provisions. On the other side of the debate, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg has taken the position that the provisions are important.
In addition to Vietnam and Jordan, the administration is also considering beginning negotiations on a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. Ros-Lehtinen has already come out as a critic of the administration's plan to sell $60 billion worth of weapons to the kingdom.
Last August, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to Obama to demand that the UAE standard be applied to all future civilian nuclear deals. The lawmakers threw Obama's own words from his 2009 speech in Prague back at him, when the president said, "We need a new paradigm for civil nuclear cooperation that allows all countries to enjoy the benefits of nuclear power, while avoiding the spread of nuclear weapons and technologies."
"That new paradigm exists," the lawmakers wrote, referring to the UAE standard.
In November, a group of 16 non-proliferation experts wrote to the administration to demand that the standard in the UAE 123 agreement be extended to U.S. federal energy loan guarantees, federal contracts, or other subsidies or assistance to help foreign government-backed nuclear firms expand their nuclear business in the United States.
The letter was signed by right-leaning experts such as Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, as well as left-leaning experts such as Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
"All of us believe that it makes no sense for our government to help foreign firms expand their nuclear business in the U.S. with federal loan guarantees, government contracts, or Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses unless they are willing to support the very toughest nuclear nonproliferation standards our own government has developed in the U.S.-UAE deal," the experts wrote.
The New START ratification drive is over, but the post-game maneuvering has just begun and each stakeholder is putting out their own message about the treaty's passage last week in an attempt to set the tone of the arms control debate going forward.
The first question open for discussion is whether the vote on the treaty -- 71 to 26, with 13 Republicans voting yes -- is a strong bipartisan show of support for arms control or a weak instance of a treaty barely passing despite a large, entrenched anti-arms control constituency in the Senate.
"We had a very strong result yesterday, with 71 senators voting in favor of the treaty, and that was resoundingly from both parties," New START's chief negotiator Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller said Dec. 23. "We had 26 nays, and three senators not voting. So a very good result, from our perspective, and the culmination of a very thorough process, working with the Senate since mid-May."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), said the vote was extremely bipartisan, at least in this political environment.
"I would say to you that in today's Senate, 70 votes is yesterday's 95," Kerry said after the cloture vote to end debate on the treaty.
But the vote was also seen another way.
"26 Senators opposed the treaty -- the most significant opposition to a ratified treaty in decades -- because the Senate failed to address those flaws," read a post-vote e-mail sent out by Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation which tried to build grassroots momentum against New START and attacked GOP Senators who were thinking about voting yes.
Gottemeoller admitted that this block of GOP senators, which included Senate leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), could stay intact if the administration decides to enter into another congressional arms control debate.
"Now, clearly, there are members of the Senate who are not keen on further arms control measures. That's always been the case," she said. "There has always been a block of opponents, historically, to nuclear arms reduction and control in the Senate. That's part of a healthy debate; it's part of a healthy process. I don't see that as a major, major issue."
But it certainly could be a major issue as the 2012 presidential race approaches. The Heritage e-mail notes correctly that prospective GOP candidates Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, John Thune, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin all were opposed to New START.
The second major post-ratification question is whether the changes the Senate made to the Resolution of Ratification (ROR) to New START represent a victory for the treaty's detractors and whether they will have real policy implications as the treaty goes into effect.
The Republican leadership is already arguing that the promises Obama and Democrats agreed to, as codified in the amendments to the ROR, represent wins for the pro-missile defense and anti-arms control communities.
"President Obama entered office promising to rid the world of nuclear weapons and drastically cut US missile defense capabilities, as evidenced by his Prague speech and first budget submission to the Congress cutting the missile defense program by $1.4 billion," read a GOP memo circulated on Capitol Hill just after the final vote. "Now, at the end of his first Congress, in the course of completing his signature foreign policy achievement, President Obama has committed his Administration to a wholesale modernization of the US nuclear complex, including improvements to warheads, facility infrastructure, and all delivery vehicles of the triad."
The memo refers to four amendments that were unanimously approved just before the final treaty vote. They express the U.S. commitment to improving missile defenses around the world quantitatively and qualitatively, pledges that U.S. missile defense deployment does not constitute a basis for Russian withdrawal from the treaty, and commits the U.S. to maintaining all three legs of the nuclear delivery triad: launchers, submarines, and heavy bombers.
The administration will argue that the language does not change the text of the treaty, but the Russian Duma is apparently concerned enough that it has delayed final ratification on their end until at least January, so that there is time to review and interpret the Senate modifications.
Even with the amended language, McCain couldn't bring himself to sign on. He decided to vote no in the final hours of the debate because his even-stronger amendment on missile defense was never accepted by Kerry and the administration.
And, for his part, McCain is painting the ratification of New START as worrisome turn of events.
"Now that it has passed, I remain concerned that the Treaty in its final form could still be used by Russia to limit the development, deployment, and improvement of U.S. missile defense. I will work tirelessly in the years ahead to ensure that this never happens," he said after the vote.
What seems clear is that now that the Senate has completed its first arms control debate in over 10 years, both sides are now more educated and attuned to the issues involved and have a better idea of what their mission is on arms control going forward.
For arms control advocates, the goal is to build on the momentum from New START to push the administration to bring up the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prevents the testing of nuclear weapons, and was signed by the United States, but never ratified. It failed to pass the Senate in October 1999.
"The New START vote suggests it is possible for the Senate to reconsider and come together around the CTBT," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "The case for the Test Ban Treaty is even stronger than it was when the Senate last reviewed the treaty a decade ago. It is clear that the United States no longer needs or wants nuclear testing and that further nuclear testing could help others improve their nuclear capabilities."
But the GOP leadership in the Senate is confident the administration won't be so willing to try and move any arms control treaties that don't already have bipartisan support.
"After jamming New START through the Senate in a lame duck session where the Senate was concomitantly attending to a variety of other duties, and consequently achieving the lowest vote count ever for a ratified major arms control treaty, the Obama Administration is probably looking around wondering what is next for its nonproliferation agenda, now that CTBT is effectively off the table," the GOP memo said. "It would appear incumbent upon Republicans to provide the Administration with that agenda, beginning with a focus on the true nonproliferation threats of Iran and North Korea."
The Senate approved a resolution of ratification for New START on Wednesday afternoon by a 71-26 vote, signaling the Barack Obama administration's first -- and perhaps last -- major arms control legislative victory for the foreseeable future.
"I want to commend the Senators from both parties who worked to achieve this positive outcome for our country," said Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher in a statement from her hospital bed, where she is recovering from cancer surgery. "The New START treaty is another step that will help move the United States and Russia toward a world of mutual assured stability. This treaty will enhance cooperation with Russia and reinforce the global nuclear nonproliferation regime."
Vice President Joseph Biden presided over the vote. Immediately following the vote, a group of supporters gathered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting room in the Capitol to cheer their success. In attendance were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma, Biden's lead New START negotiator Brian McKeon, and committee leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN).
In the end, 13 Senate Republicans voted in favor for the treaty: Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Bob Bennett (R-UT), Scott Brown (R-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Bob Corker (R-TN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Judd Gregg (R-NH), George Voinovich (R-OH), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and Lugar.
All the other Senate Republicans voted no, except for Kit Bond (R-MO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Jim Bunning (R-KY), all of whom missed the vote and are retiring from the Senate.
Just before the vote, in the throes of impending defeat, the GOP leader on New START, Jon Kyl (R-AZ), decried the process used to complete the treaty and promised that the Senate would not be a hospitable environment for arms control treaties next year.
"We better come to an understanding, either we are going to be able to make some changes, or otherwise we might as well avoid the process altogether because it's just a waste of time," Kyl said after several attempts to add "treaty killer" amendments to the agreement failed.
Kyl downplayed the impact of the treaty he had worked for months to change, saying that the whole exercise was lost in Cold War thinking and that the more pressing threats were from rogue states like North Korea and Iran.
"I suggest we move away from the distraction of an agreement like this and move toward a debate over some of the real challenges," Kyl said. He added that a positive result of the debate was that there won't be any more treaties "for a while."
Kyl was not the only one to predict that the administration won't be eager to engage in another protracted debate over an arms control treaty next year.
"Given that this was a less than overwhelming vote, I think the next Congress would be very skeptical," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in an interview.... And I think the new members who are freshly elected and have a fresh perspective, will be more focused on Iran than Russia."
Since last year, administration officials have been pledging that New START would be only the first in a long line of arms control items they hoped to move through Congress before the 2012 elections. Next up was to be the Congressional Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), then perhaps the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, followed by the successor to New START, which has not yet been negotiated.
Is that still the plan? Kerry said yes, but don't hold your breath.
"I said months ago to the president that the test ban treaty in the current atmosphere is a very, very difficult process. A whole lot of educating has to go on," Kerry said after the New START vote. "I think it's way too early to start to scope out what will or will not happen with the CTBT. We have a lot of prep work to do before we contemplate that."
Lugar said the idea that New START was the low hanging fruit that could be easily disposed of on the path to more arms control items was never right and that was abundantly clear now.
"My own counsel [from the beginning] was that you have no idea how difficult it's going to be to gain verification of New START. This was not going to be simply ‘chapter one,' conference by April 15th and then three months later you try something else," Lugar said. "I think they are believers now."
When that debate over CTBT eventually happens, Kyl could be joined in his opposition by several new GOP senators, and perhaps also Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), who the administration was trying to work with on New START up until the very last moment. McCain ultimately voted no.
"The New START Treaty was supposed to deal solely with strategic offensive weapons. It does not. It re-establishes an old and outdated linkage between nuclear arms and missile defense, which is no longer suited to the threats of today's world," McCain said in a statement. "I remain concerned that the Treaty in its final form could still be used by Russia to limit the development, deployment, and improvement of U.S. missile defense. I will work tirelessly in the years ahead to ensure that this never happens."
The Cable asked Lugar what he thought about McCain's final decision to vote against New START.
"Each one of us had to make up our own minds," Lugar said. "And as public figures, we'll have to answer for what we did."
As New START heads toward Senate ratification on Wednesday, some in Washington are stunned by the split in the Republican ranks that will allow Democrats to amass over 70 votes in favor of the treaty, splitting off more Republican senators than on any major legislation since Barack Obama became president.
"Republican opposition to New START is collapsing," the National Review's Rich Lowey wrote Tuesday, sounding the alarm. He called the final vote tally coming on Wednesday afternoon a "dismaying rout."
But the GOP leadership, which will vote against the nuclear reductions treaty, said that it did not press its members to oppose New START as a matter of party loyalty. They knew that there were two groups inside the Republican caucus on New START, and their strategy focused more on gaining concessions and being involved in the process than taking a principled stance against the agreement.
There were always those in the GOP who were leaning toward supporting the treaty, including Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Bob Bennett (R-UT), and George Voinovich (R-OH). And there were always those who were never going to support the treaty, including James Inhofe (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Kit Bond (R-MO), and others. In the middle, there were also fence-sitters such as Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who appeared willing to go either way on the treaty depending on how the debate played out.
And then there was Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the anointed GOP leader and lead negotiator on New START, who held his true feelings close to his chest throughout the often excruciating process. "If I announce for or against the treaty at this point, nobody would listen to me," he said on Dec. 15.
The myth of a "collapse" was created by the fact that almost no Republican senators would reveal their positions on New START until the final vote was imminent, except for supporter Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN). The seemingly unified GOP stance on the treaty for most of the autumn and the decision to totally defer to Kyl was a negotiating strategy -- one that actually paid off in the end, to the tune of $84 billion dollars, which the Obama administration promised for nuclear modernization. That's a relative victory, even though many will call the treaty's ratification a defeat for the GOP.
Several GOP senators openly admitted this week that, although Kyl and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) opposed ratifying the treaty this year, they didn't twist arms or apply pressure to their rank and file members. The leadership tried to persuade Senate Republicans, but ultimately released them to vote as they wished.
"We haven't said to Republicans that as a matter of party allegiance you should not vote for the New START treaty," said Senate GOP leadership member Lamar Alexander, (R-TN), who announced his support for New START Tuesday. "After all, the last six Secretaries of State have endorsed it."
"Members who had publicly supported or opposed the bill didn't get a hard push. That's not at all unusual. Other members were contacted," a GOP leadership aide told The Cable.
Meanwhile, the administration aggressively lobbied over a dozen Senate Republicans. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and officials all the way down the line were calling and meeting with senators over the final days and weeks. They offered sweeteners to senators on the fence, and rounded up sometimes reluctant GOP heavyweights, such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to provide Republicans with political cover for supporting the treaty.
"I don't think of it as breaking with the party. I studied the treaty, it's the right thing for our country," Alexander said.
Even the treaty's staunchest opponents in the Senate admitted that there was never unified opposition to the treaty in the GOP and the main complaint was over the process, which ultimately did not win the day.
"They main thing that the Republicans were for in the beginning was that we should not be doing this during the lame duck session," said Inhofe. "There were some who then thought it was imminent that it was going to be voted on, so they started peeling off. I would prefer that they not have. I appealed to each one, ‘fine you can support it, but let's at least do it next year."
So what about the administration's painstaking effort to woo Kyl and defer to his demands for delay, right up until Biden decided to throw him under the bus? Did they waste valuable time and energy or did that tactic pay off in the end?
Lugar had said for months that Kyl and GOP leadership was stalling on the treaty, and that the Democrats should just call their bluff and force the vote.
"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 Nov. 17. "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."
Lugar seems to have been right. But on Tuesday, he graciously argued that that the administration's strategy to accommodate Kyl as much as possible -- right up until they decided not to -- was a smart one.
"Whatever I might have advised, it was simply best that we moved as we have, diplomatically, people have had their say, and we are where we are," Lugar said Tuesday.
As the treaty speeds toward ratification, the biggest question that remains is: If the treaty ratification had been delayed until next year, would Kyl then have supported it? Was he ultimately trying to delay forever or was there really some amount of consultation and concessions that would have gotten him to vote yes?
Whether or not Kyl's vote was ultimately winnable will simply never be known for sure. But in the end, Kyl's efforts resulted in the administration promising over $84 billion for modernization of the nuclear stockpile and nuclear labs. "At least Jon Kyl was able to get more money for modernization and that letter from President Obama making assurances on missile defense," Lowry wrote.
And why did the argument to delay -- made by McConnell, Kyl, Inhofe, McCain, Graham, and others -- fail to convince the almost dozen Senate Republicans who will vote for New START?
Samuel Charap, fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the ordeal should be a lesson in tactics. "On initiatives that have clear bipartisan support, hardball works," he said.
Inhofe had a different take on why his argument didn't win the day. "Because we're just not that persuasive," he said.
67 senators voted Tuesday to end debate and proceed to the final hours of the process to ratify New START, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) worked behind the scenes to put the final touches on the treaty.
Kerry noted in a press conference following the 67-28 vote to end debate that at least three senators did not attend Tuesday's vote but are expected to vote for the treaty Wednesday: Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Ron Wyden (D-WY). That means there are now 70 senators who support New START.
"I would say to you that in today's Senate, 70 votes is yesterday's 95," Kerry remarked with a smile.
Both Kerry and Lugar made great efforts to portray the coming ratification of New START as an instance of bipartisanship in the national interest and not a victory over the Republican leadership, which is opposed to ratification this year.
"Both of us want to call attention to an express our gratitude and I'm very grateful to a number of senators on the other side of the aisle who decided that this was the moment to act in the national security interests of our country," said Kerry.
"I am grateful for all the senators who voted ‘aye' today. There's a very strong momentum factor here," Lugar said.
Kerry said the Senate would now try to do "as many amendments as is possible" with an eye toward holding two final votes - one on the treaty and one on the resolution of ratification - Wednesday morning, or Wednesday afternoon at the latest.
There's no formal time agreement, but Kerry said that Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) had given him a trimmed down list of amendments and that he was working with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) on their specific amendments on missile defense, to see what they could agree on.
McCain's amendment (PDF), cosponsored by Kyl, Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), would codify a pledge to complete the current four-stage plan for developing a missile defense system, preserve the option of going back to the George W. Bush administration scheme for European missile defense sites, state that U.S. missile defense plans are not grounds for Russian withdrawal from the treaty, and pledge not to share any U.S. missile telemetry data with Russia.
Corker has a similar amendment pending now, which is not as strong as McCain's but is also part of the negotiations. "The question is, is there a way to get something even stronger passed," Corker told The Cable in an interview.
"There's a lot in the McCain amendment that we are prepared to accept," Kerry said. He said he talked with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and they were preparing a counter offer to McCain's amendment. Both Biden and Clinton were hanging out at the Capitol Tuesday.
"We can certainly say to Senator McCain, ‘Here's a reasonable way to do this.' It's going to be up to him whether he thinks it accomplishes his goal and is reasonable," Kerry said.
Asked by The Cable whether they thought the months of negotiations with Kyl were misspent, considering that Kyl will ultimately will vote no despite months of hand holding that Lugar often complained about, both Kerry and Lugar took the high road.
"I'm not going to let that sort of question poison the well," Lugar responded. "Whatever I might have advised, it was simply best that we moved as we have, diplomatically, people have had their say, and we are where we are."
"This is not over," warned Kerry. "If in the end, the senate in its wisdom ratifies this treaty, it's a victory for the country, not for anybody else."
Meanwhile, the treaty opponents are finally coming to terms with the likelihood that their efforts to defeat the treaty have failed. Asked whether he would try to stall the final vote as a last stand, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said no.
"I'm just trying to get out of here," Inhofe said. "Aren't you?"
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South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint repeated today his claim that "millions of Americans" are "outraged" that Congress would dare work on major legislation, namely New START, this close to Christmas. He previously called it "sacrilegious."
"Don't tell me about Christmas. I understand Christmas," Vice President Joe Biden responded in a Dec. 16 interview. "There's 10 days between now and Christmas. I hope I don't get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation's business. National security's at stake. Act."
Less than a week later, DeMint is back at it again. "It's clear with this treaty that [the administration is] trying to cram something down the throats of the American people under the cover of Christmas," DeMint said in a press conference on Tuesday. "They're not looking at politics right now, they're celebrating their holy Christmas holiday, and the fact that we're doing this under the cover of Christmas...is something to be outraged about."
Here at the Capitol building, there's some confusion about exactly how long before Dec. 25 Congress should stop working on major bills (so as not to offend the "millions" of outraged Christians DeMint is standing up for), and why only Christian holidays should be protected from major legislation.
In an exclusive interview with The Cable, DeMint explained what commentators have coined his drive to combat the "war on Christmas vacation." Here's the transcript:
JR: Senator DeMint, exactly how long before Christmas Day is the period during which the American people don't want Congress to work on major legislation, in your view?
JD: It has nothing to do with us not being willing to work. For the [continuing resolution] I'm willing to work right through New Year's. It's just, trying to do [New START] under the cover of people being distracted. We've worked with a lot of people on the outside and around the country who feel this is a bad way to do a bad treaty. People are distracted.
JR: How long are people distracted before Christmas? Is it the entire month of December, or what?
JD: The whole lame duck [session] to me is an illegitimate process and the intent to do whatever is the nation's business that has to be done, such as fund the government. But to pass major legislation during the lame duck is not the intent. People who are here, the voters have changed a lot of them. Doing it during Christmas is just one piece of it. The big issue is using the lame duck of unaccountable senators to ram through a major arms control treaty. That's the issue.
JR: Why invoke only the Christian holidays? Congress works on major legislation during Jewish holidays, Muslim holidays. You never said anything about that, right? Aren't Jews distracted during Hannukah?
JD: Sure, we normally take off for Jewish holidays. It's more of the distraction of the end of the year. I'm not trying to make it just an issue of Christmas. But it is obvious that Americans do not expect their unelected officials to come in and make major decisions when we're not supposed to be here and they're not paying attention.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Everyone here on Capitol Hill is beginning to see the ratification of New START as increasingly inevitable -- everyone, that is, except for Sen. Jon Kyl.
As the Senate headed toward a vote to close debate on the treaty, more and more GOP senators came out in favor of the agreement, pushing the number of Republicans supporting New START past the nine-vote threshold that would ensure the necessary two-thirds majority for ratification of the treaty in the final vote coming Thursday.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was the latest Republican to publicly declare his support.
"I will vote to ratify the New Start treaty between the United States and Russia because it leaves our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come, and because the president has committed to an $85 billion ten-year plan to make sure that those weapons work," he said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. "I will vote for the treaty because it allows for inspection of Russian warheads and because our military leaders say it does nothing to interfere with the development of a missile defense system. I will vote for the treaty because the last six Republican secretaries of state support its ratification. In short, I'm convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the New Start Treaty than without it."
GOP Sens. Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) and Bob Bennett (R-UT) also expressed their support for New START Tuesday and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was expected to follow suit this afternoon.
Add to those votes the support already expressed by Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Scott Brown (R-MA), and George Voinovoich (R-OH), and that's enough votes to ratify START. All Senate Democrats are expected to vote in favor of the treaty.
The current fence-sitters include Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and John McCain (R-AZ), some or all of whom could ultimately vote yes.
Republican senators who are definitely voting no include Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), James Risch (R-ID), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Kit Bond (R-MO), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who led a press conference Tuesday morning to declare that he was not giving up on his drive to push the consideration of the treaty until next year.
"I honestly don't know what all of my colleagues are going to do," Kyl said. "We believe this process has not enabled us to consider this treaty in the serious way it should have been considered. I hope a lot of our colleagues would agree with that."
Graham, who was signaling he might vote for the treat only a week ago, was the most indignant senator in complaining about the process Democrats have used to move the treaty during the lame duck session of Congress.
He also railed against his own party for the way they have handled the treaty and acted throughout the lame duck session.
"I stand here very disappointed in the fact that our lead negotiator on the Republican side... basically is going to have his work product ignored and the treaty jammed through in the lame duck. How as Republicans we justify that I do not know," Graham said. "To Senator Kyl, I want to apologize to you for the way you've been treated by your colleagues."
Graham kept talking about Kyl's offer to hold the debate over nine days in late January and early February, with an agreement to vote in early February. As far as the administration is concerned, that offer is no longer on the table.
DeMint continued to accuse the Democrats of waging a war against Christmas vacation, as he communicated what he saw as the "outrage" of "millions of Americans" over the Democrats' actions.
"It's clear with this treaty that [the administration is] trying to cram something down the throats of the American people under the cover of Christmas," DeMint said. "They're not looking at politics right now, they're celebrating their holy Christmas holiday, and the fact that we're doing this under the cover of Christmas... is something to be outraged about."
More and more Republican senators came out in support for New START Monday afternoon, as the treaty moved closer to ratification after months of negotiations and days of debate.
"I believe we have the votes to ratify this treaty," said Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), after emerging from a two and a half hour closed session, during which senators discussed both unclassified and classified issues related to New START.
Of course, Kerry has been predicting that New START will be ratified for weeks. But multiple GOP senators emerged from the meeting echoing Kerry's confidence and some even took the opportunity to announce their support for the treaty.
"I've done my due diligence and I'm going to be voting for cloture and supporting the New START treaty," said Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). "I believe it's something that's important for our country and I believe it's a good move forward to deal with our national security issues."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) wouldn't go quite that far, but said he was at the same place he was when he voted for the treaty during committee consideration on Sept. 16. He said it would take some new problem to keep him from voting yes.
"The T's are being crossed and the I's are being dotted. Something could change but I don't know what that would be," Corker said. "We all talk about listening to our military leaders... if you go from A to Z there's a lot of support for this treaty and I don't think they would support it if they didn't think it was in the best interests of our country.:
Two more GOP senators also outwardly expressed their support for New START Monday, The Hill reported. "I'm leaning toward supporting the treaty but I want to makes sure our side gets a fair hearing," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) said, "I support it."
In addition to those four, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-ID), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME) also have pledged their support. That makes 7 GOP yes votes; treaty supporters will need 9 Republican senators to reach the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the treaty. The candidates for those two votes include Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Bennett (R-UT), Johnny Isaakson (R-GA), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ).
Meanwhile, senior administration officials have been working the phones in support of the treaty. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have both made calls to several GOP senators over the last few days on the issue.
There will be a vote on closing debate Tuesday, which will need and likely get 60 votes to pass. After that, the final vote could come Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. The Senate continued to work on two amendments -- known as "treaty killers," as they would have required re-negotiation of the treaty with the Russians -- brought by Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and John Thune (R-SD). Both failed 33-64, and another amendment to the treaty on tactical nuclear weapons brought by Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL) failed 35-62.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that New START "cannot be opened up and become the subject of new negotiations."
Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes action Monday had turned to amendments to the "Resolution of Ratification," which can be amended without sending the treaty back into negotiations with the Russian government.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) filed one of these amendments (PDF) Monday, along with Kirk and Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Their amendment would codify a pledge to complete the current four-stage plan for developing a missile defense system, preserve the option of going back to the George W. Bush administration scheme for European missile defense sites, state that U.S. missile defense plans are not grounds for Russian withdrawal from the treaty, and pledge not to share any U.S. missile telemetry data with Russia.
Kirk has also filed an amendment to the McCain amendment (PDF), obtained by The Cable, that would expand the ban on telemetry data to include all the other kinds of data, including tracking, targeting, and common operational picture data.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is said to be preparing another amendment to the ROR, and others were floating around Monday evening as well. Kerry and Kyl were working Monday evening to secure a time agreement to allow a couple more amendments to the treaty and then move to amendments on the ROR.
Kyl continued to lead the GOP side of the debate Wednesday evening and was seen chatting with Kerry after the meeting about the road ahead. Kerry said he was open to including Kyl's ideas for what can be done to the ROR, as everyone here at the Capitol starts to contemplate the end game and the treaty's eventual completion.
"We were just having a conversation with Senator Kyl. There may be some additional things we can incorporate [before the final vote]," Kerry said.
The road ahead for New START got much clearer Sunday, as the treaty heads for a final vote this week despite the now open opposition of the two top Republicans in the Senate.
Sunday's Senate action surrounded an amendment put forth by Sen. James Risch (R-ID) that sought to amend the treaty's preamble to add an acknowledgment that there is a relationship between strategic nuclear weapons (which are covered by the treaty) and tactical nuclear weapons (which are not). Risch argued that as the number of strategic weapons decreases, the significance of tactical nuclear weapons increases, and Russia has a distinct advantage in numbers of tactical nukes.
The Risch amendment failed by a vote of 32-60, after Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) characterized it as a "treaty killer" amendment because any change to the preamble would require a new round of negotiations with the Russian government.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the treaty Sunday night, which sets up a vote on Tuesday to end debate, according to what Kerry said on the floor. That would need 50 votes to succeed, after which there is still a maximum of 30 hours of additional debate before the final vote has to occur, placing the final vote on Thursday, December 23, the last working day before Christmas, Kerry said.
Reid declared he's not backing down. "As we move ahead, I look forward to continuing to debate amendments," he said on the Senate floor. "But soon this will come down to a simple choice; you either want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, or you don't."
A lot could change between now and then. Senate aides said that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was working with Democrats behind the scenes on a time agreement for the debate. As of Sunday evening, no time agreement had been struck.
The fact that it's now Corker doing the negotiating is significant. Until recently, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) had been the center of attention. But after nine GOP senators voted to move to debate New START last week over the objections of Kyl, the administration wrote off Kyl's vote and decided to push forward with the Republicans that were willing to go along.
Having no more leverage over the administration's decision making, Kyl went ahead and confirmed Vice President Joe Biden's speculation that Kyl was "flat out opposed" to the treaty in its current form and therefore would vote no when the final vote occurs.
"This treaty needs to be fixed. And we are not going to have the time to do that in the bifurcated way or trifurcated way that we're dealing with it here, with other issues being parachuted in all the time," said Kyl on Fox News Sunday, stating clearly if the treaty is not amended, he would vote no.
Kyl said repeatedly that there's just not enough time in the lame duck session to properly debate the treaty and make adjustments to meet GOP concerns about missile defense and other subjects.
"Well, what are we going through this exercise, then, for?" he went on. "We're just a rubber stamp for the administration and the Russians, the administration that for the first time wasn't willing to stand up to the Russians and say, ‘You're not going to implicate our missile defenses.'"
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) followed suit and announced his own public opposition to the treaty Sunday, as well.
"I've decided I cannot support the treaty," McConnell said on CNN's State of the Union. "I think if they'd taken more time with this, rushing it right before Christmas strikes me as trying to jam us."
Biden, asked Sunday if he was confident that there were enough votes to pass New START without McConnell and Kyl, said on Meet the Press, "I believe we do."
The administration may be writing off Kyl and McConnell's votes and therefore their concerns, but the broad GOP frustration with the process is real. Kerry keeps saying he will give the GOP as much time as they want to debate real amendments, but will cut off debate if he sees intentional stalling.
"We have now spent 5 days having a very good debate on New START and proposed amendments. That is as much time as the Senate spent on START I, and more than it spent on START II and the Moscow Treaty combined, but we are looking forward to continuing the debate this week," Kerry said.
But several GOP offices want more time to air their concerns, both for the historical record and to defend the idea that the Senate still has real influence over treaties.
"This is not an attempt to kill the treaty, this is an attempt to make it better," Risch said right before his amendment was voted down. "We have the right, we have the duty. We must advise and consent."
More amendments on the actual treaty are expected Monday. The next up is an amendment by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) that would increase the number of inspections mandated by the treaty. That amendment will also be discussed in a closed session scheduled for Monday afternoon to discuss classified intelligence matters related to New START.
Inhofe's amendment would triple the number of "Type One" inspections from 10 to 30 and triple the number of "Type Two" inspections from 8 to 24. Under the current language there is a reduction from 40 inspections per year in old START to 18 in New START.
Some Republicans think the current number of 18 inspections is unfair, because the U.S. only has 17 facilities that qualify for inspections, so Russians would see all of ours in one year. Russia has 35 facilities, so it would take us two years to see all the Russian facilities.
Inhofe's amendment is also expected to be rejected after Kerry identifies it as a "treaty killer." Treaty supporters have been successful in batting down Republican amendments, including one Saturday by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), by painting them as "treaty killers."
Kerry keeps suggesting that amendments should be made to the Resolution of Ratification (ROR), an accompanying document that doesn't require Russian consent to be changed. The problem is, nobody on the GOP side knows whether there will actually be time to debate the ROR at length.
As the Christmas holiday approaches and this round of amendments drags on, there's a good chance that the debate on the ROR could be very hurried. So, the lack of clarity is pushing GOP senators to move their amendments now out of fear the clock will run out.
And by the way, the treaty supporters may have lost Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who all but ruled out voting for the treaty during the lame duck session.
"I'm not going to vote for Start," he said on CBS's Face the Nation, "until I hear from the Russians that they understand we can develop four stages of missile defense, and if we do, they won't withdraw from the treaty."
Supporters of the New Start treaty staved off an attempt by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and John Barrasso (R-WY) to attach a "treaty killing" amendment on the Senate floor Saturday afternoon. Next up is an amendment by Sen. James Risch (R-ID) on linkage between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
The McCain-Barrasso amendment would have removed language from the treaty's preamble that acknowledged the relationship between offensive and defensive nuclear capabilities. They argued the language could constrain U.S. missile defense plans. However, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) maintained that the language stated an obvious fact and, in any case, was not legally binding. The amendment failed 37 to 59.
"The Russian government could use the treaty in its current form as a tool to place political pressure on the U.S. to limit its missile defense system," said McCain.
"All it does is to state a truism, a fact, a reality. There is a relationship between strategic offensive and defensive capabilities," said Kerry.
Kerry succeeded in characterizing the amendment as a "treaty killer," because any changes to the treaty or the preamble would require a new round of negotiations with the Russians.
"Make no mistake, this becomes a treaty killer," Kerry said. "Can we deal with this issue without it becoming a treaty killer? Yes. We've already dealt with it. It's in the resolution of ratification."
Kerry was referring to the Senate's resolution of ratification, which will be the subject of another debate after the treaty itself is considered. The resolution of ratification, which was primarily authored by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), expresses the Senate's opinion on the meaning of the treaty, and can be amended without stopping the treaty from going into effect right away. It is legally binding but does not require the treaty to be renegotiated with Russia because it simply gives the Senate's views on the pact.
As part of the debate, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) read quotes on the Senate floor from two separate articles that appeared on the Foreign Policy website, including one by FP Passport editor Joshua Keating and another by your humble Cable guy, and entered them into the Congressional Record. (Thanks Sen. Kyl!)
Before the Senate gives an up or down vote on New START, treaty supporters will have to deal with at least one more "treaty killer" amendment. The next one deals with the issue of tactical nuclear weapons and is being brought to the floor by Risch.
Risch, a member of the Foreign Relations committee, has been active on New START and almost derailed the committee consideration of the treaty over an undisclosed intelligence issue. His amendment would insert the following paragraph into the treaty's preamble:
Acknowledging there is an interrelationship between non-strategic and strategic offensive arms, that as the number of strategic offensive arms is reduced this relationship becomes more pronounced and requires an even greater need for transparency and accountability, and that the disparity between the Parties' arsenals could undermine predictability and stability.
Risch's office circulated a fact sheet about the amendment that was also endorsed by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK), and George Lemieux (R-FL), which explains the senators' concern that tactical nuclear weapons are not covered by the treaty, only strategic nuclear weapons.
"This amendment seeks to correct this flaw in the treaty, by acknowledging the interrelationship between offensive non-strategic (tactical nuclear) weapons and strategic range weapons," the fact sheet reads. "It also calls for increased transparency and accountability of these weapons and recognizes that these weapons can undermine stability."
The GOP senators also feel that the administration is misrepresenting the findings of the Perry-Schlesinger Congressional Strategic Posture Commission by saying that the commission recommended deferring negotiations on tactical nukes. Here's what former Defense Secretary William Perry said about the issue in his Senate testimony in April.
"The focus of this treaty is on deployed warheads and it does not attempt to count or control non-deployed warheads. This continues in the tradition of prior arms control treaties. I would hope to see non-deployed and tactical systems included in future negotiations, but the absence of these systems should not detract from the merits of this treaty and the further advances in arms control which it represents."
Many Senators believe that as the Perry-Schlesinger report points out in multiple places that there is an interrelationship between tactical and strategic weapons. Other senators feel Obama removed tactical nukes from the negotiating table so quickly in the summer of 2009 that he removed a point of leverage over the Russians.
The Obama administration has said that it would like to pursue reductions in tactical weapons with Russia in a future arms control treaty, what some insiders call the "follow on to the follow on." But considering how difficult it has been finishing New START, there's no telling when that might happen.
The Risch amendment is expected to receive a vote on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon. As for the final vote on the treaty? Nobody knows when that might occur. It depends on how many of the rumored 50 to 70 amendments the GOP has been preparing will actually reach the floor.
Kerry has said he will cut off debate and call for the final vote when he believes the Republicans are just attempting to stall the treaty's progress. McCain told him he can't say how long it will take to air all the GOP concerns.
"We will not have a time agreement on this side until all members have had a chance to express their views on this issue," McCain said on the floor, adding, "I promise I'm not trying to just drag this out."
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher is recovering after she underwent a successful cancer surgery earlier this month and hopes to return home by Christmas, according to a State Department official in her office.
"Undersecretary Tauscher underwent surgery to treat esophageal cancer earlier this month and her doctors consider the surgery a success," the official told The Cable. "She and her family appreciate everyone's support and prayers."
If the Senate is able to ratify New START by Christmas, as Vice President Joseph Biden is promising, that would be a nice coming home present for Tauscher, who has been a key member of the Obama administration team involved in the negotiation and ratification of the treaty. Tauscher was diagnosed with an early stage of cancer of the esophagus in July. Since then, she underwent full courses of radiation and chemotherapy before having surgery to remove the tumor in early December.
A former Congresswoman from California, Tauscher influenced the arms control debate and led efforts to revamp ballistic missile defense plans at the State Department and as chairwoman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
A close friend of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Tauscher received credit for restaffing, reorganizing, and revamping State's arms control bureau which Obama administration officials say was neglected during the George W. Bush administration.
Meanwhile, her chief of staff Simon Limage has been promoted to deputy assistant secretary of State for nonproliferation programs in the bureau of international security and nonproliferation (ISN). There he will report up to the acting assistant secretary Vann Van Diepen. Limage has worked for Tauscher for 10 years, the last two as her chief of staff in her Congressional office and at State.
Tauscher's new chief of staff will be Wade Boese, who was already working in the arms control bureau as a special assistant. Boese joined the staff in September 2009. He previously spent years at the Arms Control Association and worked for Lee Hamilton on the Strategic Posture Commission.
Best wishes to Tauscher for a full and speedy recovery from all of us here at The Cable.
As senators lined up Thursday to give speeches about the New START treaty on the Senate floor and the debate kicked into high gear, the White House formally abandoned its drive to work with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on ratifying the treaty.
Following Kyl's press conference Wednesday afternoon, during which he and 11 other GOP senators pledged to oppose the move to finish the treaty this year, the administration decided to make good on its promise to force a vote during the lame duck session and attempt to peel off the nine GOP votes that it will need to pass the treaty.
"Senator Kyl is opposed to the treaty. He's flat out opposed to the treaty," Vice President Joseph Biden told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell in an interview taped Wednesday evening.
Biden also criticized Kyl and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who said that debating the New START treaty this month was "disrespectful" and "sacrilegious" to Christians, respectively. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann called their tactic the "war against Christmas vacation."
"Don't tell me about Christmas. I understand Christmas. I was a senator for a long time and I've been there many years where we go right up to Christmas," Biden said. "There's 10 days between now and Christmas. I hope I don't get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation's business. This is the national security at stake. Act."
And so ends what at times had been a torturous attempt by the administration to cajole, entice, and even bribe Kyl to sign off on the treaty. The process began last year, when the administration flew Kyl to Geneva to witness the negotiations surrounding the treaty, and ended with the administration flying a team of officials to Arizona last month to present details of an $84 billion package for nuclear modernization they hoped would be enough to gain Kyl's support.
Kyl, who the Senate GOP anointed as their leader on New START, has been very coy about whether he would ultimately support the pact, even until yesterday. "If I announce for or against the treaty at this point, nobody would listen to me," he said at his press conference.
Only days after the administration flew a team to his home state, he declared there was no time to complete the treaty this year. Shortly after that announcement, Biden and top White House officials hosted a small roundtable with foreign affairs columnists, which included your humble Cable guy, where they promised to move forward with or without Kyl.
Looks like it's going to be without him. Biden's new boldness stems comes after a vote to move to debate on the treaty Wednesday passed 66 to 32, indicating that there is not enough Republican opposition to stop the process from moving forward. Democrat Evan Bayh (D-IN) missed the vote but is expected to support the treaty.
Nine Republicans voted to begin the debate: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), George Voinovich (R-OH), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Scott Brown (R-MA), and Bob Bennett (R-UT).
The vote has given treaty supporters confidence in the chances of ratification, but there will be many more twists and turns before that can happen. There are already signs that the procedural vote does not necessarily reflect how some senators will vote on the treaty. For example, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) issued a statement that he may support the treaty even though he voted against moving to debate.
"I voted against proceeding to consideration of the New START treaty because I don't agree with the decision to debate a nuclear arms treaty at the end of a lame duck session in the midst of considering an omnibus appropriations bill," said Corker. "But now that we are on the bill... if there is a full and open debate on the treaty and if the resolution of ratification isn't weakened in the process, it is still my plan to support the treaty."
The administration is also still working to increase the number of treaty supporters. Now that they feel there's a reasonable chance of passage, they are hoping fence-sitters can be encouraged to move to the winning side. Their targets are figures like Corker and Sen. Johnny Isaakson (R-GA), who voted for the treaty in committee, and other "moderate" GOPers, like new Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
They seem prepared to write off GOP senators who have said they might vote for the treaty but not if it's pushed through this month.
The GOP senators complaining about the schedule Wednesday were Sens. Kyl, Kirk, Pat Roberts (R-KS), Kit Bond (R-MO), James Risch (R-ID), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jeff Sessions (R-GA), John Thune (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), George LeMieux (R-FL), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and John Cornyn (R-TX).
Alexander, Lemieux and others have said they could perhaps support the treaty next year but will vote no during the lame duck session. Of course, that's what Kyl has said as well, and that's exactly the line that the White House is now openly rejecting.
Meanwhile, the Thursday debate focused the GOP senators's numerous concerns about the treaty, including missile defense, nuclear modernization, tactical nuclear weapons, and verification. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) spoke about the need to avoid amendments to the treaty's preamble, which were ruled in order by the Senate parliamentarian this week.
"The fact is, if you change that preamble now, you are effectively killing the treaty, because it requires the president to go back to the Russians and renegotiate the treaty," he said.
One amendment, which Kerry and supporters is calling a "treaty killer," would strip the preamble of language that acknowledges a relationship between offensive and defensive missile capabilities. Some Republicans think that may constrain U.S. missile defense plans, but the administration and Lugar disagree.
"This does not mean that Russia will not complain regarding U.S. missile defense deployment, as it has complained about U.S. missile defense plans for the past four decades," Lugar said. "But under the New START Treaty, we will continue to control our own missile defense destiny, not Russia."
The Senate could begin debate over New START nuclear reductions with Russia as early as tonight or tomorrow morning, but already Republican senators have secured a procedural ruling that could make it easier for them to bring up what are being called "treaty killer" amendments.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has decided to bring the New START treaty to the floor in parallel with the Senate's other major obligation this week, passing an overall funding bill to keep the government running, a senate Democratic leadership aide confirmed to The Cable. The treaty has been placed on what's known as the "executive calendar," meaning that the Senate can go back and forth debating both the treaty and the funding bill for the rest of the week, the aide explained.
New START "is on the executive calendar which means they don't need our consent to get on it, nor have they needed it all year," a GOP senate leadership aide told The Cable. "But since the government shuts down on Saturday if we don't pass a funding bill, I would imagine they'll want to turn to funding the government next."
In fact, the plan is to do both at once -- get the ball rolling on New START while also tackling the funding issue -- the Democratic leadership aide confirmed.
Republicans are still divided as to whether there is enough time to debate and ratify the treaty this year, but Senate leadership is moving forward regardless. To prepare for the coming debate, several GOP senators asked the Senate parliamentarian to give an official ruling on whether the preamble to the treaty is open for amendments.
Treaty supporters object to amending the preamble, because any changes would force the treaty to go back to bilateral negotiations with the Russians, which could take months and possibly even scuttle New START entirely.
This is why treaty supporters refer to such amendments as "treaty killers." The negative effect that amendments would have on the process is likely far greater than the effect the amendments would have on the agreement itself.
On Tuesday, the parliamentarian ruled in the GOP's favor, stating that yes, the preamble to the treaty is amendable. We're told that several GOP senators are preparing to try to amend it to take out the language that acknowledges the link between offensive and defensive missile capabilities.
"We have been asked to re-examine the precedent which states that preambles to treaties are not amendable," the Senate parliamentarian stated in his ruling, which was obtained by The Cable.
The parliamentarian ruled that a precedent in Riddick's Senate Procedure guide from May 18, 1998, (noted at footnote 31 in the treaties chapter of Riddick's), which stated that treaty preambles were not amendable, was not correct. Therefore, there's no reason why senators can't try to change the preamble during the floor debate.
"We have found no other authority to support the conclusion that preambles to treaties are not amendable, nor have we heard an argument to support that position," the parliamentarian stated in his ruling. "Unless it can be demonstrated to us that there is in fact valid precedent or convincing logic preventing the Senate from amending preambles to treaties, we will advise from this point forward that preambles to treaties may be amended."
It's no coincidence that the five senators who asked the parliamentarian for the ruling are all GOP senators currently arguing for a delay in treaty consideration until next year. They are Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John Thune (R-SD), James Risch (R-ID), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and John Barrasso (R-WY).
Kyl is the GOP point man on New START. Thune's state is home to strategic bomber fleets. Risch almost derailed the committee hearing over New START over an undisclosed intelligence concern. DeMint is a staunch treaty opponent and is advocating for a huge expansion of missile defense. And Barrasso actually tried to amend the preamble in committee, but his amendment was ruled out of order by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). Kerry will have trouble blocking that amendment on the floor if the parliamentarian's ruling is allowed to stand.
Treaty supporters have maintained that the language is not legally binding and does not constrain U.S. missile defense plans. Republicans are planning to try to turn that argument on its head.
"Given the insistence by treaty supporters that the preamble is non-binding and could not be used by Russia to withdraw, one should assume they no longer have any objections to removing the missile defense provisions from the Treaty now that amendments are in order," one senior GOP senate aide said.
What about the substance of the preamble language itself? Here's what it says, exactly:
"Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties."
And here's what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said about that language at the Council on Foreign Relations in May:
"The treaty's preamble does include language acknowledging the relationship between strategic offensive and defensive forces, but this is simply a statement of fact. It does not constrain our missile defense programs in any way. In fact, a similar provision was part of the original START treaty and did not prevent us from developing our missile defenses."
And here's what Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) said about the language at a hearing in July:
"We originally were told there would be no references to missile defense in the treaty, and no linkage drawn between offensive and defensive weapons. Then we were told there would be such a reference, but only in the preamble, which of course is not legally binding. However, in the final treaty text -- not just in the preamble, but Article 5 of the treaty itself -- there is a clear, legally-binding limitation on our missile defense options. While this limitation may not be a meaningful one, it is a limitation."
UPDATE: Kyl said Tuesday he still doesn't think there's enough time to complete work on the treaty this year and that he will try to defeat the treaty if it comes up during the lame duck session. "I let the majority leader know that's an issue for a lot of my colleagues," Kyl told reporters Tuesday. "And if he does bring it up, I will work very hard to achieve that result, namely that the treaty fails."
That's two ayes and one nay for the New START treaty on Capitol Hill today. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) just issued a statement that he will not support the treaty.
"After reviewing provisions contained in the New START treaty, I have decided to vote against ratification," Burr said. "I fear it will have a negative impact on our national security, and the United States must be assured that any arms treaty it agrees to does not limit our ability to defend against growing international threats. This New START does not satisfy that criteria, and I look forward to debate on the issue so I can address more specifically the concerns I have with ratifying this agreement."
That debate could come next week, as many Senate offices seem to be preparing for floor consideration. Both of Maine's GOP senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, announced their support today, although Snowe said she will only vote yes if there's enough time for amendments from the GOP side.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also said today he hopes the treaty can come up for consideration on the senate floor "next week."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
In a one line tweet, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) came out in support of the New START Treaty with Russia Friday.
"Senator Collins announces support for new START treaty," her twitter feed read Friday morning.
In a statement set to released Friday, Collins said the administration had sufficiently addressed her concerns about Russia's tactical nuclear weapons, which are not part of the New START treaty.
"The New START represents a continued effort to achieve mutual and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons," Collins said. "As the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I support the President's commitment to reduce not only the number of strategic nuclear weapons through the New START treaty, but also to reduce, in the future, those weapons that are most vulnerable to theft and misuse - and those are tactical nuclear weapons."
That brings the total number of Republican senators who have clearly stated their support for the treaty to two. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has been working hard to get the treaty ratified for months.
But there are other signs Friday that more and more Republicans are getting ready to vote in favor of the treaty. Sen. John McCain, in a speech at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Friday morning, said he hoped New START could be debated "next week."
"My colleague Senator Jon Kyl is doing a tremendous job working with the administration to resolve the issues associated with nuclear modernization. I've been focusing my efforts on addressing the key concerns relating to missile defense. And I think we are very close," McCain said.
That matches what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told The Cable last week -- but it does not match Kyl's most recent statements. Kyl continues to say that there isn't enough time to debate and ratify the treaty this month, given that the tax issue remains unresolved.
One scenario that would push consideration of New START until next year is that the treaty could be brought up for a cloture vote, and then fail to win enough votes to close off debate. This could occur if many GOP senators are unhappy with their ability to bring up amendments, for example, leading them to vote against cloture even though they support ratification of the treaty.
This possibility would allow the administration to say they tried and were stifled by intransigent Senate Republicans. However, it would be a pyrrhic victory - wasting floor time during the lame duck session, and leaving the treaty to an uncertain fate during the next session of Congress.
So all eyes are on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the same guy who reluctantly brought the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal to the Senate floor Thursday knowing full well the cloture vote would fail, and Kyl, who the treaty supporters are hoping will finally show his cards.
If Kyl is ultimately determined to not strike an agreement this month, the question is whether the administration's intensive effort to find 8 or 9 GOP votes willing to buck their Senate leadership has paid off. As of right now, they've only got Lugar and Collins for sure.
UPDATE: The other Maine Senator, Olympia Snowe, also came out in support of the treaty Friday, kind of. She said her support for moving the treaty this year was was contingent on allowing "sufficient debate and amendments."
Collins' full statement after the jump:
Now that the Senate has declined to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the path could be clear for a full-on debate over the New START treaty with Russia, right? Not so fast. A huge fight is brewing on Capitol Hill over the dozens of amendments GOP senators are preparing to bring up during the debate, several of which the administration could consider "treaty killers."
Republicans are preparing to raise several dozen amendments to both the treaty itself and the Senate's resolution on ratification. And, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unlikely to bring New START to the Senate floor until after the issue of extending the Bush administration tax cuts is resolved, time is running out to set aside the two weeks of floor time Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) says is needed to properly address the treaty.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and the administration have been telling GOP senators that some of their amendments cannot be brought up on the Senate floor because, if adopted, they would force the treaty to go back to the Russians for another round of negotiations. Multiple GOP Senate aides told The Cable that the treaty supporters were calling these amendments "treaty killers."
"There are several dozen amendments kicking around on our side to address problems with the treaty. But, the administration and the SFRC folks will probably label any threatening amendment as a ‘treaty killer,'" said one GOP Senate aide involved in the issue, who felt that using the term is not a substantive argument. "I expect that's how they would try to defeat most of our amendments, though ‘treaty killer' seems to be just code for ‘we don't want to push this with the Russians.'"
The amendments being circulated now cover the whole litany of concerns that GOP senators have raised about New START treaty for months, including missile defense, nuclear modernization, Iran policy, tactical nuclear weapons, and verification of the treaty's provisions.
The one amendment that could really rile up the Russians and force further protracted negotiations on the treaty is one being circulated that would strip the treaty's preamble of language that acknowledges a relationship between offensive and defensive capabilities. The administration has said repeatedly this language doesn't constrain U.S. missile defense plans but many Republicans want to see it gone nonetheless.
GOP senators are already starting to publicly criticize the coming process for debating the treaty and are objecting to any deal that would limit the possibility of amendments.
"Clearly, the New START treaty has very serious implications for U.S. national security, and it would be a mistake for the Senate to consider it in a hasty fashion," Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said Thursday. "When this treaty reaches the Senate floor, the majority should allow open and unhurried consideration. If the treaty's defects can be properly addressed through the amendment process, it would have a better chance of getting bipartisan support."
Meanwhile, the administration and Kerry continue to work behind the scenes with top GOP senators, including Kyl and John McCain (R-AZ). Nobody knows whether they will reach a deal in time, but the longer the negotiations drag on and the longer the tax issue remains unresolved, the dimmer the chances of ratifying New START this year.
The administration may be right that certain amendments would force a renegotiation that could delay the treaty for months or more. Regardless, the angst among GOP offices on Capitol Hill is real -- as is the administration's frustration with Republicans.
Here's a taste of the debate to come. "If the treaty is actually in the national interest of both nations, as the administration claims, then there can be no such thing as a ‘treaty killer' amendment," said one senior GOP aide. "But this is part and parcel of the Administration's failure, since day one, to respect the Senate's role of advice and consent."
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he had discussed holding a vote on the New START treaty with Russia this year with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and that he expected this to happen.
"I confident that we are going to be able to get the START treaty on the floor, debated and completed before we break for the holidays," Obama said after his bilateral meeting today with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. "That's not linked to taxes; that's something that on its own merits is supposed to get done, needs to get done."
As of last Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told The Cable that a deal with Republicans to move the treaty this month was close at hand. But if the Senate GOP leader on this issue, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), is close to striking a deal, he is keeping that information to himself.
"There's a lot going on," Kyl told reporters after a meeting Wednesday with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). "We're trying to make sure that there is adequate time for each of the things that have to be done. And senators don't want to feel like they're being cheated of that adequacy of time. They don't want to be jammed."
Kyl had linked the New START vote to a resolution of the tax debate last week, saying that debate on New START can't go forward until the tax issue was resolved. Kyl has also said that the Senate needs at least two weeks to work on the treaty and address GOP senators' concerns about nuclear modernization, missile defense, and verification.
Meanwhile, virtually everybody who hasn't yet weighed in on the treaty is now chiming in. A group of GOP House members (who can't vote on the pact) sent a letter on Tuesday calling for the treaty to be delayed until next year.
Now, The Cable has learned that House Democrats, led by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), have sent their own letter calling for swift ratification.
Former President George H.W. Bush issued a one line statement Wednesday in support of the treaty. But he declined to say that the treaty should be ratified this year, similar to the stance former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took Tuesday.
"I urge the United States Senate to ratify the START treaty," Bush 41's statement read.
Score one for Warsaw. President Barack Obama promised Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski on Wednesday that Poland would be admitted to the State Department's visa waiver program, a concession to Poland that also fulfills a key GOP senator's demand for his vote to ratify the New START treaty.
Poland, which is the only member of the 25-country "Schengen area" not able to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa in advance, has been petitioning the administration to let it in the program for a long time. After neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, and Latvia entered the program, the Poles finally got a promise from the Obama administration that they would work with Congress to make it happen.
"I am going to make this a priority," Obama said, sitting alongside Komorowski. "And I want to solve this issue before very long. My expectation is, is that this problem will be solved during my presidency."
So did Obama just promise to get it done before 2012 or 2016? That's unclear. But it is the strongest statement from this administration yet about the issue.
"I am well aware that this is a source of irritation between two great friends and allies, and we should resolve it," Obama said. "The challenge I have right now is that there is a congressional law that prevents my administration from taking unilateral executive action. So we're going to have to work with Congress to make some modifications potentially on the law."
"I take these declarations with good faith," Komorowski responded. "I feel simply committed to say that Polish public opinion completely does not understand why all the neighbors of Poland, the neighborhood of Poland, can use the Visa Waiver Program, and we can't."
The Obama administration has overseen a rough patch in U.S.-Poland relations. After being hailed as a leader of "new Europe" by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and being promised missile defense installations by President George W. Bush's administration, the Poles watched with alarm as the United States shifted its focus toward Russia after Obama was elected.
The Poles publicly support the U.S. "reset" policy with Russia, reasoning that improved U.S.-Russia relations increase stability for the entire continent. But privately, they have felt neglected and still smart from what they see as the Obama administration's poor handling of the decision to scuttle missile defense installations planned for Poland and replace them with other types of military cooperation.
But Obama has an ulterior motive in moving the visa waiver program forward unrelated to improving U.S.-Polish relations. As The Cable reported, Sen. George Voinvovich (R-OH) offered to trade his vote on the New START treaty in exchange for this concession to Poland.
Voinovich argued that the Poles had increasing doubts about their relationship with the United States, due to the Russian "reset" policy and New START, and therefore needed to be reassured with the visa action. But Polish Foreign Minister Radislow Sikorski said last month, and Komorowski affirmed today, that Poland supports the ratification of New START. They think the visa issue should be addressed on its own merits.
"Poland supports and fully accepts the aspiration for the ratification of the new START because we believe that this is the investment in the better and safer future, and this is also the investment in the real control over the current situation," Komorowski said.
"You have to have the confidence but you also have to verify, because then, perhaps at the end of the process, we will also push the reset button [with Russia], after 1,000 years of our history," he said.
Entry into the visa waiver program is an issue of national pride and international respect for Poland. The technical reason Poland couldn't enter the program was because the rate of refusal of its citizens who apply for visas to the United States was over 10 percent. In other words, too many Poles were judged by American consular officials as a risk for overstaying their visas and becoming illegal immigrants.
Poland is now under the 10 percent threshold -- but the standard was dropped to 3 percent last year after the Department of Homeland Security failed to meet its own deadlines for an unrelated biometric security program.
So exactly how did Komorowski approach Obama on the visas? "I want all Poles and Polish-Americans to know that President Komorowski raised this issue very robustly with me," Obama said.
We're told by a source who was inside the room that Komorowski didn't make a specific demand, but simply told Obama that this was a very important issue to him and the Polish people, and that all items of cooperation were on the table between the two allies. .
Obama was joined by Ambassador to Poland Lee Feinstein, who has been dealing with the issue in Warsaw. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also attended.
Now that the Obama administration and congressional Republicans have reached an agreement on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, the attention on Capitol Hill turns to whether there's enough time to debate and vote on the New START treaty with Russia this month. On Tuesday, 16 GOP members of the House of Representatives weighed in on the decision, calling for a delay on the vote until next year.
"We are troubled by the Administration's push to ratify the New START Treaty amid outstanding concerns regarding Russian intentions, missile defense limitations, and nuclear modernization," the congressmen, who do not have a vote on the pact, wrote Tuesday to Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "Given the security implications associated with this treaty and the importance of such a treaty enjoying bipartisan support, we believe the Senate should not be rushed in its deliberations. Therefore, we urge the Senate not to vote on the New START Treaty in the lame duck congressional session and certainly not until these important security issues are resolved."
The representatives, led by incoming House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee ranking Republican Mike Turner (R-OH), acknowledge in the letter that they have no official say over the treaty's ratification. But nevertheless, they want to make their voices heard.
"The outcome of the treaty will undoubtedly impact national security policy and investment decisions within our jurisdiction as authorizers of the annual defense bill, and we will be responsible for overseeing its implementation," they wrote. "Because of these roles, we feel compelled to express our concerns."
On Thursday, 22 GOP senators, who do get a vote, wrote to McConnell (PDF) to lay out their position on the New START treaty. They stated that they wanted to be consulted before any agreement is reached, that the ratification debate shouldn't be rushed, and that they must see the full negotiating record between the administration and the Russians before the vote -- a record the administration has already said it won't provide.
The senators didn't say they would definitely vote no if the treaty comes up this month, but that's the implicit threat. Even without these 22 votes, the treaty could garner the 67 votes needed for ratification, but not without Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the votes he brings in tow.
The letters sent by the GOP congressman and senators are just the latest in the public back and forth over whether there's enough time to complete the treaty during the lame duck session. On Dec. 3, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told The Cable in an exclusive interview that an agreement with the GOP to hold the vote this month was close. "It's like a no-hit game. We've made a lot of progress, but it's not done until it's done," she said.
Kyl, who has said that the debate on New START can't begin until the taxes issue is resolved, said Dec. 5 on CBS's Face the Nation that "there is not time to do it in the lame duck when you consider all of the other things that the Democratic leader wants to do."
That comment prompted Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) to say Monday that he was getting "mixed signals" from the GOP.
"There are some on the Democratic side that thought we were in good shape to call it before we left, and to act on it. And, then over the weekend, Sen. Kyl said it would not be called during the lame-duck session. So, I can't tell you exactly where we are today," Durbin said.
On the same day as Kyl's pessimistic statement, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) said that he was optimistic about holding a vote on the treaty this year. "The votes are there [to ratify the treaty]," Lugar told CNN's Candy Crowley.
The administration continues to build its case for a debate and vote on New START this year, securing the albeit-reserved endorsement of the final former secretary of state yet to weigh in publicly on the treaty.
"With the right commitments and understandings, ratification of the New Start treaty can contribute to this goal," former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. "If the Senate enters those commitments and understandings into the record of ratification, New Start deserves bipartisan support, whether in the lame-duck session or next year."
The P5+1 talks in Geneva have only just begun, but a bipartisan group of senators is already calling on the Obama administration to resist Iranian attempts at stalling, keep ratcheting up pressure as talks go on, and tell Iran they don’t have the right to enrich uranium for the foreseeable future.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week in Bahrain that Iran does have the right to a domestic uranium enrichment program for civilian purposes, if and when they prove to the international community they can do so transparently and responsibly.
But in a letter (PDF) to President Barack Obama to be delivered on Monday -- but obtained in advance by The Cable -- Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) said that the administration should make clear to Iran that domestic enrichment is not an option.
“We believe that it is critical that the United States and our partners make clear that, given the government of Iran’s pattern of deception and non-cooperation, its government cannot be permitted to maintain any enrichment or reprocessing activities on its territory for the foreseeable future,” the senators wrote. “We would strongly oppose any proposal for a diplomatic endgame in which Iran is permitted to continue these activities in any form.”
The senators also told Obama they want the administration to make clear to Iran that sanctions and other pressures will increase during the negotiations. They also wrote that the administration should not be fooled into accepting “confidence building measures” as substitutes for real negotiations.
Overall, the letter sets down a marker to Obama to remind him that, as the administration heads down the engagement track with Iran once again, Congress will be watching and waiting to criticize any perceived weakness or concession. The negotiations may be taking place in Geneva, but the Obama team has to always keep one eye on Capitol Hill.
MANAMA, Bahrain — International sanctions are not likely to convince Tehran to abandon its nuclear program and Monday’s talks in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries are only the first step in a process that could take years to succeed, according to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
Bildt, who is considered one of Europe’s leading voices on foreign policy, is no friend of Iran. He’s a vocal critic of Iran’s human rights record and has worked hard to free Europeans held in Iranian prisons. But he gave a speech on Sunday at the 2010 IISS Manama Security Dialogue that included criticism of the sanctions regime the United States and Europe have worked to put in place. He also happened to sit next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the Dec. 3 gala dinner at which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke.
The Cable sat down with Bildt on Sunday for an exclusive interview about Iran, the nuclear negotiations, and his dinner date with the Iranian leader.
Bildt disagreed with Clinton’s view, expressed in our exclusive interview with her two days before, that the international sanctions regime had brought Iran back to the table and was thus having an effect on the Iranian leadership’s decision making.
“They were at the table one year ago, they were at the table six months ago, and they are at the table again. And I think it’s at the table where the solution can be found. I fail to see any solution that is not at the table,” Bildt said.
“The sanctions are part of the scene but they are not the solution,” he told The Cable. “There are some people that seem to believe sanctions are going to sort out the problem itself, as if you have sufficiently hard sanctions, the Iranians are suddenly going to fold and say, ‘We agree with everything that you’ve said.’ That’s a pipe dream.”
Sanctions might have some effect over the long term, but that could take a very long time, he said.
“You’re talking about a 10, 15, 20 year process,” Bildt said. “The thing that can change things in the near term is the talks.”
But even the nuclear negotiations that begin on Monday in Geneva will need several follow-up sessions before progress is can be made, said Bildt.
“I think we’re talking about a fairly lengthy process. We have a gulf of mistrust between the Iranians and the Americans that is profound. One side is locked into 1979 and one side is locked into 1953,” Bildt said, referring to the dates of Islamic Revolution and the U.S. sponsored coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh. “It will have to be a step by step approach, where you start by some smaller steps before you’re ready to take some bigger steps.”
Luckily, the West has some more time to negotiate with Iran, Bildt added, because he believes that their nuclear progress is going much slower than anyone anticipated.
And what about his dinner with Mottaki? Bildt said he told Mottaki that Clinton’s speech, which focused on Iran’s right to civilian nuclear development and avoided harsh criticisms, was a huge change in tone from the American side made in the hope of improving relations.
Bildt said that Mottaki agreed, but that the Iranian diplomat doubted it would make much of a difference in the end.
“I said to Mottaki, ‘this is significant,’” Bildt related, referring to Clinton’s direct outreach to the Iranian delegation.
“'Yes, yes,’ he said, ‘it is,’” Bildt quoted Mottaki as telling him. “But there many people in Tehran who don’t believe it,” Mottaki added.
MANAMA, Bahrain – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ate dinner on Friday only five seats away from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. And although Clinton and Mottaki didn’t speak to each other, or even shake hands, Clinton’s speech had a distinctly warmer tone toward Tehran -- only three days before the next meeting between Iran and the P5+1 countries in Geneva regarding Tehran’s nuclear program.
Addressing the Iranian delegation directly during her opening address to the 2010 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, Clinton said, “In Geneva next week, the P5+1 will meet with representatives from your nation, the first such meeting since October of 2009. We hope that out of this meeting, entered into in good faith, we will see a constructive engagement with respect to your nuclear program. Nearly 2 years ago, President Obama extended to your government a sincere offer of dialogue. We are still committed to this dialogue.”
Clinton then spoke about Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear program, focusing on the possible end state if negotiations go well -- rather than harping on the international community’s long list of complaints regarding Iranian behavior.
“The position of the international community is clear. You have the right to a peaceful nuclear program, but with that right comes a reasonable responsibility, that you follow the treaty you signed and fully address the international community’s concerns about your nuclear activity,” she said. “We urge you to make that choice … we urge you to restore the confidence of the international community and live up to your international obligations.”
Clinton went on to praise Iran as the home of one of the world’s greatest civilizations, while noting that the latest IAEA report showed that Iran has not yet made clear it intends to pursue a peaceful resolution to the controversy over its nuclear program.
“We continue to make this offer of engagement with respect for your sovereignty and with regard for your interests, but also with an iron clad commitment to defending global security and the world’s interest in a peaceful and prosperous Gulf region,” she said.
When asked at the conference what Clinton expected to come out of next week’s talks in Geneva, Clinton said, “I believe that is largely in the hands of the Iranians.”
In an interview Wednesday with the BBC’s Kim Ghattas, Clinton said that Iran was entitled to enrich its own uranium, after it had satisfied international concerns.
"We've told them that they are entitled to the peaceful use of civil nuclear energy, but they haven't yet restored the confidence of the international community to the extent where the international community would feel comfortable allowing them to enrich," Clinton told the BBC. "They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations."
Experts in the audience said that Clinton’s remarks about Iran’s right to enrich uranium didn’t mark a change in policy, but noted that her focus on Iran’s sovereign rights and mention of enrichment did mark a new tone ahead of the negotiations in Geneva.
“This has been policy since at least 2008, when the P5+1 put a package proposal to Iran that asked for a suspension of enrichment until Iran restored confidence,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the IISS non-proliferation and disarmament program. “She wasn’t breaking any new ground in terms of the position, but in tone is was totally positive, setting the right mood music for the Geneva talks beginning Monday.”
Mottaki was seated next to, and seemed to get along famously with, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
MANAMA, Bahrain—The Obama administration and Republican congressional leaders are in the final stages of reaching an agreement to bring the president's nuclear arms treaty to a Senate vote this month, according to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"It's like a no-hit game. We've made a lot of progress, but it's not done until it's done," Clinton told The Cable in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the IISS Manama Security Dialogue.
Senate sources say the deal is imminent and would result in bringing the treaty, known as New START, to the Senate floor on Dec. 13, which could provide up to two weeks of floor time to debate and then ratify the pact. That's the amount of time Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has said is needed to properly vet the treaty. And that would allow the White House to fulfil its promise to get it done before Christmas.
But Kyl, who holds the keys to ratification because so many Senate Republicans are committed to following his lead, has also said that the Senate needs to resolve differences over extending George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.
Clinton acknowledged that this was the main sticking point.
"We have been encouraged by the positive response we've received from a number of Republicans," she said. "They're also telling us, ‘You know, it depends on what happens during this session.'"
She also said that if and when the treaty does get a vote, she thinks it will secure the 67 yes votes needed for it to go into effect.
"I believe we have enough votes that recognize the national security importance of doing this. But I'm not counting the chickens until they vote."
Three key Republican senators, including Senate Majority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) wrote to President Obama Monday to demand more information about the administration's dealings with Russia regarding missile-defense cooperation.
"As you know, the ballistic missile defense program touches some of our country's most sensitive technology, collection assets and real time intelligence," wrote Kyl, along with Sens. James Risch (R-ID) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). "We therefore request detailed responses to the following questions, before the administration enters into any agreement or joint study related to U.S. missile defenses [with Russia]."
The letter then ticks off a list of a dozen detailed information requests the senators have for the White House about the potential for cooperation on missile defense between the United States (or NATO) and Russia that was discussed at the recent NATO summit in Lisbon. The letter also requests a full briefing, "including documents," on the U.S.-Russia working discussions on missile defense led by Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher and her Russian counterpart Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov.
The letter does not once mention New START, President Obama's nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia, but the timing is no coincidence. Kyl is the GOP's point man on dealing with the administration as the White House pushes for a ratification vote during this lame duck session of Congress, and all eyes are upon him as Washington insiders try to assess whether Republicans will ultimately agree to debate and vote on the pact this year.
Risch and Kirk are also important for different reasons. Risch nearly derailed the Sept. 16 Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on New START by declaring that a classified intelligence issue was giving him new concerns about the treaty. Kirk, who is moving over from the House in January, just replaced a Democratic senator and has said he is not yet ready to support ratification.
One signature missing from the letter is that of Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), the senator has most often voiced concerns about missile defense in relation to New START. McCain seemed to indicate this week that he was leaning toward supporting a vote this year.
"I believe we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Senator Kyl's concerns and mine about missile defense and others," McCain told ABC's George Stephanopoulos Tuesday.
But now, even though Kyl, Risch, and Kirk aren't directly linking their missile-defense request to New START, they've set out a new request on a related issue just as the administration thought it had fulfilled the bulk of their outstanding demands.
Nobody, including the White House, knows whether the GOP leadership will ultimately agree to vote on New START this month. The administration isn't backing down from its call for a vote, despite the crowded Senate calendar. Behind the scenes, quiet discussions are ongoing.
The Washington Times today ran a story claiming that a new internal State Department report revealed "secret talks" between the Obama administration and Russia on missile defense and claiming that the report contradicted congressional testimony by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The State Department struck back, issuing talking points maintaining that there is no "secret deal" with Russia on missile defense, that discussions on cooperation with Russia have been ongoing and public for some time, and that any cooperation will in no way limit U.S. missile-defense plans or capabilities.
As for the Russians, they've been cold on the idea of missile-defense cooperation all along, based on their longstanding concerns about the very concept of missile defense and their abiding mistrust of U.S. motives. Lately, however, they have made it clear that if NATO and the United States are going to deploy missile defense all over Europe, they want to be involved.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin both made statements recently to that effect.
In a provocative statement that is unlikely to be viewed as helpful in the White House, Putin told CNN's Larry King this week that without New START, Russia will have to build up its nuclear forces, which are also meant to deal with the "new threats" posed by U.S. plans for a European-based missile-defense system.
Putin also explained his skepticism of the missile-defense program. "We have been told that you'll do it in order to secure you against the, let's say, Iranian nuclear threat," Putin said. "But such a threat, as of now, doesn't exist."
King also pressed Putin to respond to Defense Secretary Robert Gates's contention that "Russian democracy has disappeared," as documented in a WikiLeaked diplomatic cable and first reported on The Cable.
Calling Gates "deeply misled," he said, "When we are talking with our American friends and tell them there are systemic problems in this regard, we can hear from them 'Don't interfere with our affairs.' This is our tradition and it's going to continue like that. We are not interfering. But to our colleagues, I would also like to advise you, don't interfere either [with] the sovereign choice of the Russian people."
He also said that it would take a "a very dumb nature" for the Senate not to ratify New START, which he said is in America's own interest.
While the White House continues to negotiate with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in an attempt to convince him to allow a vote on the New START treaty this year, it is also undertaking a massive effort behind the scenes to rally foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to support the treaty’s ratification and put public pressure on Republicans to yield.
As part of that effort, the White House has been in contact with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish organizations, encouraging them to be vocal about their support for the New START treaty, and warning them that the failure of the treaty could have negative implications for the drive to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
“Certainly we’ve been in touch with all sorts of different groups saying if you feel strongly about the treaty, we hope your voice will be heard,” a senior administration official said when asked about whether Jewish groups had been contacted. The official added that the administration had not asked anyone to contact lawmakers.
Over the last three days, three major pro-Israel organizations issued strong statements of support for New START: the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Council for World Jewry (ACWJ).
"We are deeply concerned that failure to ratify the new START treaty will have national security consequences far beyond the subject of the treaty itself," the ADL said in a Nov. 19 letter sent to all senators. "The U.S. diplomatic strategy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons requires a U.S.-Russia relationship of trust and cooperation."
The ACWJ said on Monday that Russia's "cooperation is indispensable to assuring global security and American goals, notably in blocking Iran’s dangerous quest for its own nuclear capability."
NJDC President David Harris told The Cable in an interview that he had been in touch with the administration and had meetings that included discussions of New START with officials.
“The White House made it very clear that this was a very high priority of this administration,” Harris said. “They’ve been helpful in providing resources, but they cannot and would not encourage outside the groups to lobby. But we have had conversations about the level of importance of New START.”
“To me the nexus is clear,” Harris said. “Ratifying New START is should be a central objective of the entire pro-Israel community.”
Missing from the list of groups endorsing New START, however, is the largest pro-Israel non-governmental organization, AIPAC. Also missing from the list of endorsements is any public statement from the Israeli government itself, despite the fact that several European leaders have come out strongly in support of New START.
“We have no position on the treaty. We are staying above the political discussion in Washington,” one Israeli official told The Cable. The official could not confirm rumors we’ve heard that the administration asked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to speak out, but that Oren declined. Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been strengthening ties with Russia, even saying in September, “Our views on many challenges of today are close or identical.”
The official said that the Israel government was sensitive to perceptions that they were interfering in American domestic politics, following a meeting earlier this month between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the new House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).
Vice President Joseph Biden explained why the New START treaty was critical to the effort to isolate Iran in a small roundtable with foreign policy columnists, including your humble Cable guy, at the White House Nov. 19.
“I’m not suggesting that if START fails, all of the sudden we’re back in the Cold War with Russia but I am saying that the things in the margins that make a big difference right now might very well be different,” Biden said, referring to what he called “unprecedented” Russian cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan.
He praised Russia’s decision to forgo selling the S-300 air defense missile to Iran as well as Moscow’s cooperation in bringing new multilateral sanctions against Tehran via the U.N. Security Council. “Absent that cooperation I think [it] is problematic whether or not China or even Europe would have made some of the tougher sanctions decisions that we made,” Biden said.
Back on Capitol Hill, staffers on both sides of the issue are well aware of the administration’s recent activity but had starkly different views on its wisdom and efficacy.
“The idea that this administration, which has manifestly undermined the U.S.-Israel relationship at every turn, would gin up pro-Israel groups to ram this treaty through in the lame duck [session] is a new low, even for an administration that has made a habit of alienating friends and allies,” said one senior GOP Senate aide involved in the issue.
But another Senate aide who is involved in both the New START and Iran issues saw the logic of linking the two.
“It’s politically smart to do this. Once of the central arguments that the administration has been making is that the START treaty is important due to its impact on U.S.-Russia relations and one of the achievements has been to convince Russia to adopt a more cooperative approach on Iran,” the aide said.
But the jury is still out on whether advocacy by pro-Israel groups can cause senior Senate Republicans to rethink their positions. “The center of gravity is still Jon Kyl so I don’t know how it effective it will be in influencing his calculations,” the aide said.
A Democratic congressional staffer who is also a strong supporter of Israel argued that, if it were Democrats holding up the treaty, Republicans would surely be playing the Israel card.
“If the roles were reversed and the Democrats were playing
politics with Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, we’d be eviscerated by the pro-Israel
community,” the staffer said. “We’d be getting our ass kicked about it, no
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.