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
Even if the ratification vote on the New START treaty happens this year (as the White House wants) as opposed to next year (as GOP leadership is pushing for) there are some senior senators who are flat out opposed to the agreement, including Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Kit Bond (R-MO).
"I rise today to express my strong opposition to the administration's New START Treaty," Bond said in a statement submitted to the Congressional Record on Nov. 18. "I do so after great deliberation and after initial disposition to support the treaty because of the generic importance of these types of treaties for our Nation. But with what I have learned from classified intelligence information, I cannot in good conscience support this treaty."
Calling the treaty "oversold and overhyped," Bond argued that while the U.S. would have to reduce deployed arsenals under the treaty, the Russian would be allowed to increase arsenals because they are currently below the treaty's maximum allowances. He also railed against Russia's unilateral declaration that it would withdraw from the treaty if they view U.S. missile defense plans as upseting strategic stability, calling the Russian statement "pure and simple manipulation."
Most significantly, Bond claims that based on classified intelligence reports that he's seen, the treaty does not permit adequate verification activities needed to make sure the Russians aren't cheating. All verification activities have stopped since the old treaty expired Dec. 5, but the new proposed verification measures are somewhat different from the ones that lapsed.
"As the vice chairman of this committee, I have reviewed the key intelligence on our ability to monitor this treaty and heard from our intelligence professionals. There is no doubt in my mind that the United States cannot reliably verify the treaty's 1,550 limit on deployed warheads," he said.
He accused the Russians of cheating on previous arms control treaties, including the original START, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and Open Skies. "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," he said.
Other senior Republicans, such as Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have said repeatedly that they are not against the treaty but have concerns that they want to work out before they can offer support. Bond, however, made it clear: As far as he's concerned, the treaty is beyond repair.
"Unfortunately, New START suffers from fundamental flaws that no amount of tinkering around the edges can fix. I believe the better course for our nation, and for global stability, is to put this treaty aside and replace it with a better one."
As tensions spiral upwards on the Korean peninsula, North Korea's construction of a light water nuclear reactor in addition to its new, sophisticated uranium enrichment facility, allows the regime to claim that its enrichment program is for domestic civilian power needs -- as the same argument that Iran makes -- according the first Western scientist allowed to visit the facility.
Sig Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, toured the Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Korea on Nov. 12 and gave an extended briefing on his trip Tuesday at the Korea Economic Institute. He was joined by two other experts who traveled to North Korea this month, former Special Envoys Jack Pritchard and Robert Carlin. Hecker said that he saw 2,000 centrifuges set up in the facility, as well as construction on a 25 megawatt light water nuclear reactor. He could not confirm whether the centrifuges were operational, but emphasized that what he saw represents a huge leap forward for North Korea's nuclear program -- one that carries grave risks and severe implications for regional and international diplomacy.
"My jaw just dropped, I was stunned," Hecker said of the moment he saw the centrifuges. "To see what looked like hundreds and hundreds of centrifuges lined up... it was just stunning. In a clean, modern facility, looking down I said ‘Oh my god, they actually did what they said there were going to do.'"
"We must take this seriously, but not overhype it," Hecker continued, noting that by setting up a reactor to make low enriched uranium, the North Koreans have the ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for bombs while also claiming the enrichment is for civilian purposes, exactly like Iran.
"The same technology, the same equipment can be used to make HEU. And then what you have is called the Iran problem," he said. "It's a way of admitting the uranium enrichment program with a cover story... it's the same cover story that Iran has."
But are the North Koreans getting help from Iran in constructing their facility, especially since it happens to look like the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz?
"What we saw, 2,000 centrifuges... that's about twice what Iran has done so far. So I'm not sure I would go to Iran if I were North Korea, it might in the future be the other way around," Hecker said. "But I worry about cooperation with Iran."
He said that while the design of the facility was not new, the North Koreans have a new, younger team of scientists working on the design and construction of the new facility, different from older ones he saw in previous trips there. But Hecker's chief concern is the safety of the facility, the security of the nuclear material, and having weaponized material in the hands of the North Korean military.
"Maybe we should have North Korea as part of WANO (the World Association of Nuclear Operators) to make sure they construct that reactor safely," he said.
Carlin said that it was "ironic" that Pyonyang had constructed a light water reactor, given that the international community had been working for years to build such a plant in North Korea under the auspices of the now-defunct Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. Under that program, the international community would have had control over the nuclear fuel going in and coming out of the reactors, but the effort was shuttered in 2006.
"We've been here before, we were going to build a light water reactor, and we were going to have complete control of the fuel," said Carlin. "For various reasons that remain unclear, we scrapped that program.... And it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that we had a bite at this apple once upon a time."
Carlin also said the message from North Korea was clear: They are open to negotiation but are going to keep nuclear weapons for a long time and "we better get used to it" -- unless the United States satisfy all of their security concerns and stop what North Korea calls American "hostile" policies. He also warned that Chinese leverage over North Korea was unlikely to affect a positive outcome.
"The Chinese have never said that the North Koreans can't have a nuclear program to produce electricity. And since the North Koreans say that's the purpose of their program, I suspect that's going to be where the bulk of [the Chinese] position is," said Carlin.
Hecker agreed with Carlin and Stanford's John Lewis, who argued in the Washington Post op-ed section on Monday that "U.S. policymakers need to go back to square one."
"A realistic place to start fresh may be quite simple: accepting the existence of North Korea as it is, a sovereign state with its own interests," Carlin and Lewis wrote.
"For now, the most important thing is don't let the threat grow," added Hecker, arguing for a containment strategy that would set new red lines for North Korea, namely no new bombs, no bigger bombs, and no exporting of nuclear material.
Hecker said the 5 megawatt plutonium reactor that that operated previously at Yongbyon for years is now shut down, as is the reprocessing facility for plutonium. He estimated that there are 24 to 48 kilograms of plutonium in North Korea that were produced from that reactor, enough to make 4 to 8 bombs.
The North Koreans told Hecker that they wanted to complete construction on the light water reactor by 2012, but Hecker said that was unrealistic: Most projects in North Korea are scheduled to be completed in 2012 because that's the 100-year anniversary of former dictator Kim Il Sung's birthday.
So why did the North Koreans decide to reveal their nuclear reactor now? Hecker didn't know for sure, but speculated that the construction would have been detected soon enough, so Pyongyang wanted to break the news on its own terms.
Pritchard speculated that the exchange of artillery fire with South Korea last night was not related to the revelation of the new reactor and the new uranium enrichment efforts.
"I do not think there is any connection at all" between North Korea's revelations regarding its nuclear program and the flare up Monday night, said Pritchard. But he warned that either way, there won't be an appetite to bring up the issue before the U.N. Security Council, as was done after North Korea sank the South Korean ship the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
"I don't think we will find it going to the UNSC or additional sanctions for this," he said. "The Cheonan was a dastardly event. And the difficulty the international community had coming out with an unambiguous statement, it suggest to me that's not the route we're going to repeat here now."
Hecker's report on his trip can be found here.
Photo of Robert Carlin taken by Sig Hecker
The U.S.-Russian "reset," meant to repair relations between the two former rivals, has been led by U.S. President Barack Obama and his counterpart, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The White House sees the reset, along with its key deliverable, the New START nuclear reductions treaty, as part of its effort to strengthen Medvedev's credibility within the Russian system, as opposed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Vice President Joseph Biden spoke of how New START fits into the administration's drive to empower Medvedev at a small roundtable on Nov. 20 with a group of foreign affairs columnists, including your humble Cable guy.
"I do believe that there is a play here," he said. "Medvedev has rested everything on this notion of a reset. Who knows what Putin would do? My guess is he would not have gone there [in terms of committing to the reset], but maybe."
Russia experts aren't so sure that passing New START would strengthen Medvedev's position vis a vis Putin. Most of them believe that Putin was, is, and will likely remain the more powerful of the two Russian leaders.
Biden acknowledged that nobody in Washington, including himself, really knows what's going on inside the Kremlin between Medvedev and Putin, but he truly believes that a stronger "reset" policy, which includes ratifying New START, is good for Medvedev -- and a stronger Medvedev is good for U.S.-Russia relations.
"The centerpiece of where Medvedev is, is this reset. And [START] is the crown jewel inside that reset, because it wasn't Putin pushing this, it was Medvedev," Biden explained. "I'm not suggesting that if START fails, all of the sudden we're back in a Cold War with Russia. But I am saying that the things in the margins that make a big difference right now might be different."
Biden pointed to what he characterized as "unprecedented" Russian cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran as areas where the reset policy has advanced U.S. interests, and which could be jeopardized if New START fails.
But Russia experts from the left and right agreed that the idea of a rift on foreign policy between Medvedev and Putin is often exaggerated in Washington, and that Medvedev isn't likely to have pursued the reset without Putin's agreement. But they also agreed that Putin's likely return to the presidency in 2012 spells trouble for the U.S.-Russia relationship.
"We have a tendency in Washington to see a mortal struggle over the strategic direction of Russia between Medvedev and Putin that simply doesn't exist in reality," said Samuel Charap, fellow at the Center for American Progress. "However, the implications of a return to the presidency for Putin are serious and significant in a negative way for the U.S."
As president, Putin did engage in arms control agreements with the Bush administration, including signing the 2003 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), known as the Moscow Treaty, which would be nullified by New START. But Putin also left office with a bad taste in his mouth regarding arms control deals with Washington, after the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty..
Charap said it's wise to have a "healthy skepticism" about Biden's notion that there are real differences on strategic questions between Medvedev and Putin. "I cannot imagine that major strategic decisions of national import are taken by Medvedev without the consultation of Putin," he said.
Whether or not Putin would be more or less amenable to New START, the Obama administration shouldn't be trying to play the murky game of internal Russian politics, other experts said.
"It's a dangerous path to go down to try to split Medvedev and Putin," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "Although focusing on Medvedev seems to have produced some dividends, we should not be under the illusion that we can elevate Medvedev to be the principal decision maker, because he will never be as long as Putin is around."
"I don't see any evidence to show that there's a split between Medvedev and Putin on this issue," Petersen said. "They actually agree on this issue, which is that they are willing to cooperate now but they will take any opportunity to get out of their responsibilities while holding the U.S. to their side of the agreement."
In an interview with Foreign Policy, Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who served under President Putin, described the Medvedev-Putin relationship as that between "a boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country."
When asked if he thinks Putin will run for president in 2012, Kasyanov said, "I wouldn't say ‘run,' just step in."
While the Senate is focused on the struggle over whether to ratify the New START treaty during the lame duck session, foreign policy and Russia specialists are also watching the House intently, to see if it will pass a separate civilian nuclear agreement with Russia -- despite ( not surprisingly) staunch GOP opposition.
The Obama administration submitted the deal known as the U.S.-Russia 123 agreement, to Congress back in May. The agreement would allow U.S.-Russian cooperation on sharing nuclear technology for energy purposes. Shortly thereafter, a diverse coalition of Republicans and Democrats mobilized to voice their concerns. The agreement is one of several bilateral civilian nuclear agreements the Obama administration has been pushing. It has signed a deal with the UAE, is in the process of updating deals with Australia and South Korea, and is negotiating similar deals with Vietnam and Jordan.
But the Russia deal has spurred the greatest opposition, especially from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who is not only a Russia skeptic, but also the incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"The U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement should be stopped," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement Nov. 17. "Russia continues to undermine U.S. interests in Iran, Venezuela, Central Asia, and elsewhere. Russia promotes nuclear proliferation through its reckless policies of selling nuclear facilities, technology, and materials to any country with ready cash, including constructing the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr."
Ros-Lehtinen even introduced a congressional resolution of disapproval regarding the deal, although nobody expects the resolution to be considered on the House floor. Unlike with the New START treaty, Congress does not have to ratify civilian nuclear agreements. If Congress simply does not act and 90 days of legislative business pass, the agreement goes into effect.
But that 90-day threshold also presents an obstacle to the administration's hope to implement the agreement. Congress needs to be in session for about 15 more days this year to reach 90 days, and nobody knows if that's going to happen. If Congress returns shortly after Thanksgiving and does business for three full weeks, that's enough. But if the lame duck session is short, the administration will have to resubmit it next year.
"If the legislative clock stops before the Russia agreement is approved, the president should not resubmit it to Congress until Moscow has changed course," Ros-Lehtinen said.
Ros-Lehtinen is also angry that the administration decided not to send anyone to testify at the committee's Sept. 24 hearing on the agreement. She argues that means the agreement has never had a Congressional oversight hearing, which is required by law.
"We can well understand why the Executive Branch wanted to kill a hearing on the Russia 123 agreement. Certainly none of us who have been following the overtures to the Russian government, including the removal of sanctions on Russian entities assisting Iran's nuclear and missile program, are surprised," she said at the time. "After all, it is abundantly clear that the Russia 123 agreement is a political payoff to the Russians, pure and simple, and cannot be defended on its merits."
Russia experts point out, however, that the U.S.-Russia 123 agreement preceded the Obama administration's "reset" policy toward Russia. The deal was in fact signed by President George W. Bush and would have gone into force in 2008, but was pulled after Russia invaded Georgia. They also point out that Bush supported Moscow's assistance to Tehran in building a light water reactor at Bushehr: it was intended to allow Russia to supply nuclear fuel to Iran and, in the process, remove any materials that could be weaponized.
"The best argument against Iran having their own enrichment capacity is having another country do it for them. So Bushehr is not a proliferation risk," said Samuel Charap, a fellow at the Center for American Progress. He said that Congress probably would not move to block the deal even next year, but "even a delay is going to be misinterpreted (as a rejection of the deal) in Moscow by people who don't understand how American politics work."
A GOP House aide who works on the issue disagreed. "People differ on the risk that Bushehr represents. Some people believe a light water reactor is problematic in Iran," the aide said, adding that on Iran, "Russia should be doing much more... There are 123 agreements that don't carry the baggage that the Russia 123 agreement does."
If Congress returns the Monday after Thanksgiving, they would have to stay in session until about Dec. 9 for the agreement to go through, the aide said. So will the House leadership have enough work to keep everybody in town that long?
"That's the million dollar question," the aide said. "A lot of people are wondering what the calendar is going to look like."
Now that Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has made it clear he will not agree to support the New START treaty this year, despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to hold the vote during the lame duck session, the White House has redoubled efforts to find nine Republican “yes” votes that don’t include Kyl, the Republican’s designated leader on the issue.
For over a year, the intensive administration effort to secure Senate ratification of the New START treaty with Russia has focused primarily on securing the support of one GOP senator. The efforts included over 30 high-level interactions with Kyl, as detailed in a White House fact sheet circulated on Friday, as well as intensive efforts to secure over $84 billion for nuclear modernization that Kyl demanded.
But inside the White House, there’s frustration and exasperation with Kyl, especially since he is still saying he’s not ready to agree to a vote. So the administration is apparently playing hardball now, charging ahead toward a vote with or without his support.
In a small roundtable at the White House on Friday afternoon with columnists, including your humble Cable guy, Vice President Joseph Biden flatly rejected the argument that the administration took too long to give the Senate enough time to debate and vote on the treaty this year.
“That is not true, there’s been no delay here,” Biden said. “The reason we didn’t push earlier is that the Republican leadership said to us ‘Look, Jon Kyl is the point guy.’ Literally, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell said Jon Kyl, which was kind of a kick in the teeth to [Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican] Dick [Lugar], but Jon Kyl, he’s the guy, unless you get Jon…”
Biden was careful not to say that Kyl was intentionally moving the goalposts as a delaying strategy, but he did detail Kyl’s several new requests for various things as the Senate consultation process progressed.
“Jon did a really good job of asking for a whole lot of information and commitments,” Biden said. “Jon then came back and asked for something that I don’t every recall has been done before, and that is ask us to go on the line now, which we have, on the fiscal year 2012 budget and make it clear what we were going to do, to the point where I’ve already got to the appropriations committee and said, ‘this is what I expect.’”
“I don’t want to say Jon was conditioning, but it was an indirect condition,” Biden said. “After 36 years in the Senate, I knew if we tried to move the treaty in June, July, September, it was going to go nowhere because Jon would be able to say to a lot of Republicans who would just as soon, as we Catholics say, have this cup pass from us, to be in a position to say ‘we just can’t do it.’”
Three senior administration officials, speaking after Biden left the meeting, said that they were continuing to work as fast as they could to try meet Kyl's demands and answer his questions.
“We’re hearing from Senator Kyl that we came too late with this offer, we don’t have enough time to study it. It’s quite an extraordinary thing, showing the budget to Congress three months early, I don’t think it’s ever been done before. And two days after we finalized the numbers, we flew a team to Arizona to see him and present it to him for three hours. So now he says we are ‘too late,’ when it was he who laid out the schedule,” one senior administration official said.
“It was Senator Kyl himself who suggested that the lame duck would be an appropriate time to look at the START treaty back in early September,” said a different senior administration official. “It’s ready for a vote and we had some expectation, although not a guarantee, that the lame duck was a possibility.”
The bottom line is that the White House is no longer counting on Kyl to bring around his caucus and has reverted back to an earlier, second-track strategy to reach out to all the other GOP senators the administration thinks might vote “yes.”
“There’s a number that we need to get to get this passed. The question is, if Senator Kyl decides he is not able to support it now, whether a number of other Republicans would come on board and support the treaty,” one official said. “We believe that at the end of the day we will have made that so clear, the broader argument on the merits of treaty… can carry the day with enough Republican senators to get this passed.”
One official allowed that if GOP senators decide to vote for the treaty despite Kyl’s intransigence, it would not necessarily mean they were breaking with Kyl.
“No matter the decision Senator Kyl makes on how he votes, he’s in a position because of the work we’ve done together on modernization to say he’s gotten a real success here. I don’t think anyone would be abandoning Senator Kyl if they decide to vote for the treaty and he decides to vote against it,” the official explained.
The officials said that the administration is committed to holding a vote this year and was working with that single goal in mind. There’s no work being done to plan for a debate and vote next year.
So if they come to the end of the lame duck session and the White House hasn’t secured 67 firm “yes” votes, what will happen? Will the president call on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)to force the vote and hope that GOP fence-sitters make the right choice? Or will the administration table the treaty and try again next session?
“We’ll have to make a judgment. We’re doing all the work we need to do to put this before the Senate. We’ll try to make our best estimate about where we are and people above my pay grade will have to make that decision,” one official said.
As the White House scrambles to secure enough GOP Senate votes to ratify the New START treaty with Russia, there's a lot of overt political grandstanding -- and a lot of horse trading going on behind the scenes.
In a long floor speech on Wednesday Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) declared, "I am deeply concerned the New START treaty may once again undermine the confidence of our friends and allies in Central and Eastern Europe." Then, quietly, he offered his support to the Obama administration in exchange for waiving visa requirements for Polish citizens.
Various GOP senators have submitted demands in exchange for their support of the treaty, but they are usually related to concerns over the treaty itself. For example, the administration has offered Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) over $84 billion for nuclear modernization, under the premise that shoring up the safety of the stockpile is needed to ensure national security.
But admitting Poland into the State Department's Visa Waiver Program, a longstanding aim for the Polish government, is pretty tough to tie to the New START treaty. Here's how Voinovich's office linked the issues in a statement given Thursday to The Cable.
"Senator Voinovich is eager to strengthen the United States' relations with our allies in Eastern Europe to allay their concerns stemming from President Obama's pursuit of the ‘Reset Policy,' and the expansion of the existing Visa Waiver Program does just that," said Voinovich's press secretary Rebecca Neal.
Neal said that Voinovich requested an expansion of the Visa Waiver Program following a Sept. 9 phone conversation with Vice President Joseph Biden.
"During the call, Vice President Biden asked what the administration could do to address Senator Voinovich's concerns regarding the treaty, as well as other matters of importance to the senator," said Neal. "The vice president's offer was not limited to items already in the treaty."
Voinovich drove home his advocacy for the Poles in a long floor speech Wednesday about New START that was seen by some as an indication he wasn't ready to support the treaty.
"The president's stated goal of a world without nuclear weapons is noble, but I believe the Senate's consideration of the New START treaty must be considered through a wider lens that includes the treaty's implications for our friends and allies in the former captive nations," said Voinovich.
Voinovich even went so far as to circulate a proposed amendment to the Senate's resolution for ratification for New START, obtained by The Cable, that would prevent the treaty from going into force unless the Visa Waiver Program was opened up to Poland.
A Polish diplomat told The Cable that Warsaw has been working with Voinovich for years on this issue."We knew about this initiative, we support it, and we like it. We have cooperated with Senator Voinovich for years over the issue," the diplomat said. "Maybe with the help of Senator Voinovich we can achieve this in the next months."
But Voinovich may also have interests at home informing his amendment: Large parts of Ohio were settled by Polish immigrants, and second- and-third generation Poles are extremely influential in Ohio government.
The diplomat said that for Poles, and their relatives all over Ohio, the issues is one of fairness -- not related to U.S.-Russian relations in any way.
"We don't fear the ‘reset' with Russia, but the main issue is that we are suffering an injustice right now by being excluded from the program."
Biden's office declined to comment.
Update: Pawel Maciag, press attaché for Embassy of Poland in Washington, wrote in to The Cable, "Quotes from a Polish diplomat published in this article may have mistakenly suggested that Poland takes a position regarding linkage between ratification of the New START and Visa Waiver Program. We do not. We are very sorry for the misunderstanding."
Meanwhile, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski published an article Friday that said, "It is important to make clear: my government supports the ratification of New START, because we believe it will bolster our country’s security, and that of Europe as a whole."
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
10 incoming GOP senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today to demand the right to vote on the New START treaty with Russia. Senator-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) didn't sign that letter, but his staff told The Cable that he hasn't decided how he will vote yet and won't decide until he receives several specific things from the Obama administration.
Kirk is a key vote, and not just because he is a moderate GOP lawmaker with decades of military and foreign policy experience. Kirk will fill the seat being vacated by appointee Roland Burris, which means he will be seated this year, probably shortly after the Thanksgiving break. So if somehow the administration is able to secure a vote on New START this year, Kirk will be one of three brand-new senators who will vote on the pact, along with Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Chris Coons (D-DE). Among them, Kirk is the only Republican taking over for a departing Democrat.
"The Senator-elect wants to carefully review all available information before making a decision on this matter," Kirk spokesman Lance Trover told The Cable Thursday.
An aide to Kirk explained to The Cable that Kirk is asking for multiple pieces of information before he makes up his mind: copies of the complete negotiating record of the treaty; documents related to a parallel discussion on U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation conducted by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher and her Russian counterpart deputy foreign minister Sergei Rybakov; classified briefings on the reliability of America's nuclear warheads from the directors of the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories; U.S. Strategic Command's written analysis prepared to support the treaty negotiations; planning documents showing the administration' commitment to modernize the three legs of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; and formal briefings from the Departments of State, Defense, and Energy.
That's a lot of data for the administration to pull together for Kirk before the end of the year. The administration has so far refused to provide senators with the full negotiating record or the inside details of the Tauscher-Rybakov discussions, so that could also be a stumbling block in the effort to win Kirk's vote.
On a conference call Thursday afternoon, The Cable asked Ben Chang, deputy spokesman for the National Security Staff, if the administration would entertain the idea of handing over the full negotiating record for New START.
Chang wouldn't say. But he reiterated that " there is time on the Senate calendar to get the treaty ratified this year and we are committed to do so."
So what about the other two new senators who will be seated during the lame duck? We haven't been able to get a response from Coons on his position, but Manchin spokesperson Lara Ramsburg told The Cable that "Joe Manchin's governing philosophy on defense policy will be to listen to our commanders and generals on the ground, and before he can cast a vote for or against START II, he will need to assess their recommendations." We're still trying to figure out just what that means, considering that every military leader from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down has voiced strong support.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama continues to pledge to push for a treaty vote this year and has tasked Vice President Joseph Biden to work on it "day and night."
"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year," Obama said Thursday. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."
President Obama is personally committed to pushing for a Senate vote on the New START treaty during this lame duck session of Congress. But he's going to Europe tonight, so he's ordering Vice President Joseph Biden to make it happen.
"As Senator [Harry] Reid said yesterday, there is time on the Senate calendar to get this treaty ratified this year. So I've asked Vice President Biden to focus on this issue day and night until it gets done," Obama said just before he met with top Cabinet officials and pro-treaty senators at the White House Thursday.
"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year, he said. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."
The president also appealed to the spirit of bipartisanship that has led to unity in support for many, but not all, past international arms treaties.
"As Ronald Reagan said, ‘we have to trust, but we also have to verify.' In order for us to verify, we've got to have a treaty," he said. "And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America's national security will be weakened."
What Obama didn't explain was how the administration intends to convince the Senate GOP leadership to agree to a vote this year. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has said he doesn't think there's enough time this year to finish work on the treaty, and 10 incoming Republican senators wrote on Thursday that they deserved the opportunity to weigh in after they are seated next year.
When asked whether he thought the treaty would pass this year, Obama simply stated, "I'm confident that we should be able to get the votes."
The meeting included Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger, former Secretaries of Defense William Cohen and William Perry, former National Security Advisor Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, and former Sen. Sam Nunn.
Obama's full remarks after the jump:
Ten of the new incoming Republican senators Thursday are planning to demand they get a say on the New START treaty, adding ten new voices to the growing cacophony pushing for a delay in consideration of the treaty until next year.
"On Election Day we were elected to represent the constituents of our respective states in the Senate," the incoming Republicans wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), in a letter (PDF) obtained by The Cable. "Out of respect for our states' voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New START Treaty or any other treaty in a lame duck session prior to January 3, 2011."
The letter was organized by Senator elect Roy Blunt (R-MO) and was signed by both moderate and conservative incoming senators such as Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Rand Paul (R-KY).
The letter places yet another obstacle in the way of the Obama administration's intensive drive to hold a debate and ratification vote for the treaty this year. President Obama himself is meeting Thursday with top members of his cabinet and key senators, not including GOP treaty leader Jon Kyl, R-AZ, to devise a strategy to figure out how to take up the treaty now.
Intensive backroom negotiations between Kyl and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) yesterday still did not convince Kyl to back away from his Tuesday statement that there's just not enough time during the lame duck session of Congress to consider the treaty. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday doubled down on her call for swift consideration of the treaty as a matter of urgent national security, but GOP senators maintain they still haven't received the details of Obama's $84 billion pledge for nuclear modernization and the updated report on modernization that accompanies it.
But all that could be moot if the new GOP argument is to be that the newly elected Senators-to-be have a right to be a part of the process. That's what Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who actually voted for the treaty in committee, told The Cable on Wednesday. And that's what those senators-elect are demanding now.
In the letter, the senators-elect already indicate that they have real concerns with the treaty and might not support ratification. First of all, the letter argues that the New START treaty "would dramatically reduce the U.S. nuclear deterrent in a strategic environment that is becoming ever more perilous." That's an assertion the administration would disagree with strongly.
Secondly, the senators-elect are demanding that the administration turn over the full negotiating record between the U.S. and Russia, which they call "a critically important component in putting the pact in full context." The administration has no intention of meeting that demand.
Overall, the letter shows that if the START treaty is delayed until next year, the path toward ratification in 2011 could be a really slow, long one.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) told The Cable Wednesday that he believes Senate GOP leadership is simply trying to avoiding debating the treaty altogether, in order to protect members from having to take what they consider a tough vote.
Tea Party groups and the Heritage Action for American lobbying organization have been targeting GOP senators, including Kyl, warning them that a vote in favor of New START could be used against them in a primary challenge in 2012.
"Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now," Lugar said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote."
Read the full text of the letter after the break
In a stunning rebuke to members of his own caucus, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) said on Wednesday that the GOP is intentionally trying to put off a vote on the New START treaty with Russia, and avoiding a serious discussion about the treaty within the caucus.
"At the moment, the Republican caucus is tied up in a situation where people don't want to make choices," Lugar told reporters in the hallway of the Capitol building Wednesday. "No one wants to be counted. No one wants to talk about it."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a big show on Wednesday morning of doubling down on the administration's drive for a vote to ratify the treaty during the lame duck session of Congress. Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) expressed confidence that a deal with Republicans and their leader on New START, Jon Kyl (R-AZ), was close at hand.
But according to Lugar, the Republican leadership is preventing a debate on the treaty for the rest of the year because they don't want to force their rank-and-file members to take a position on the agreement.
Kerry and Kyl continued to meet on Wednesday, ostensibly to work out a deal based on the $84 billion the administration is promising Kyl for nuclear modernization in exchange for his support of the treaty. Kyl told The Cable that negotiations were going forward "in good faith," but Lugar suggested that's all a smoke screen and that the Republican leadership is committed to avoiding completion of the treaty for the foreseeable future.
"Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now," he said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote."
Lugar argued that the intransigence within the Republican caucus is a result of the leadership's unwillingness to put current GOP senators in the crosshairs of the debate before the political terrain shifts in the Republicans' favor when the new Congress is sworn in.
"If you're a Republican, you anticipate that the lay of the land is going to be much more favorable in January and therefore would say, ‘If we do not have to make tough choices now, why make tough choices?'" Lugar explained.
Lugar wants the Democratic Senate leadership to cut off negotiations immediately and force a vote on New START now, to compel senators to get off the fence and to end the endless stalling coming from his own side of the aisle.
"I'm advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay [even if there's no deal]," he said. "I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."
Delaying until next year is a worst case scenario that could delay the treaty's ratification for months or even years as new senators request additional time to study the issue, and the committee process begins all over again, he said.
"Endless hearings, markup, back to trying to get some time on the floor... It will be some time before the treaty is ever heard from again," Lugar said.
Lugar also warned that the failure to ratify the treaty could have drastic consequences for other facets of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation -- especially the Nunn-Lugar effort to secure loose nuclear materials throughout the former Soviet Union.
If START fails, the cooperation between the United States and Russia on securing loose nukes could be imperiled, representing an even bigger risk for national security, Lugar said.
"There are still thousands of missiles out there. You better get that through your heads," he said, directing his comments to members of his own party.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing alongside Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), dug in Wednesday morning on the administration's call for the New START treaty with Russia to be ratified this year.
Clinton spoke to the press after attending an early morning meeting in the Capitol building that included Kerry, Lugar, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), Senate Appropriations Committee ranking Republican Thad Cochran (R-MS), Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee ranking Republican Judd Gregg (R-NH), and others.
The key GOP vote on New START, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), did not attend. The meeting was meant to gather bipartisan support for the increased appropriations the administration plans to request for nuclear modernization -- some $4.1 billion for fiscal 2012, on top of the $80 billion the administration has promised for modernization over the next 10 years.
Clinton spoke about the administration's effort to get Congress to agree to the funding in advance, in order to satisfy Kyl. "We will continue to intensify those discussions in the coming days, and we're confident that there well may be a bipartisan consensus emerging on the need for such funding," she said.
She also argued that the Senate's action this year on New START would be an indicator of how the GOP intends to work with the administration during the next Congressional session.
"This is exactly what the American people expect us to do, to come together and do what is necessary to protect our country. We can and we must go forward now on the New START treaty during the lame duck session," Clinton said.
The idea is to assure Kyl that the modernization money is guaranteed, even though the fiscal 2012 budget request won't be released until February. That was one of the demands Kyl made in exchange for his support, which could bring along a significant portion of the GOP caucus.
Administration officials traveled all the way to Arizona late last week to present the broad outlines of the administration's latest offer to Kyl personally. But Tuesday morning, Kyl issued a statement that said he did not believe there was enough time in the lame duck session of Congress to debate and vote on the treaty. Aides told The Cable that Kyl was still waiting to see details of the offer in writing, along with an updated report on nuclear modernization.
The Tuesday morning statement came as a shock to the administration, which had thought a deal with Kyl was imminent. Administration sources say its timing showed a potential lack of good faith by Kyl. The statement came just days after the trip to Arizona and exactly one day before Kyl was set to meet with Kerry, Clinton, Vice President Joseph Biden, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the White House.
Our Congressional sources said that meeting, scheduled for today, has now been cancelled. But Kerry met Kyl later on Wednesday morning, and told The Cable he is now meeting regularly with Kyl on the issue. Kyl told The Cable Wednesday that negotiations are ongoing.
Overall, the message from Clinton on Wednesday was that the treaty must be done this year, that it represents a risk to national security not to have a treaty in place, and that the administration would continue working with senators to get a vote before the year's end.
Despite Kyl's latest statement, which the administration viewed as extremely unhelpful, Kerry told The Cable Tuesday that he "takes Kyl at his word that he is negotiating in good faith."
Regardless, statements by other senators Tuesday that consideration of the treaty should be delayed until next year also damaged the administration's push for a vote. Senators who are now calling for delay include Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treaty in committee, and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE).
Kerry's message Wednesday was that he believes there are no disagreements on substance between Democrats and Republicans on New START, that he would do whatever was necessary to address senators' concerns, and that since this Congress has done the work on New START, it's this Congress that should vote on it.
"We have reached out for months," Kerry said Wednesday. "As of today, the last questions posed by some senators have been answered."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key Republican vote in the drive to ratify the New START treaty, said Tuesday he doesn't believe the treaty should be voted on this year.
"When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization," Kyl said in a statement. "I appreciate the recent effort by the Administration to address some of the issues that we have raised and I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Kerry, DOD, and DOE officials." ?
Kyl spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about it last week. A possible meeting between Kyl, Biden, Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the works and could happen on Wednesday. The treaty was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 14 to 4 on Sept. 16, and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
The Washington Post reported that the White House is offering an additional $4.1 billion for nuclear facilities. This latest offer comes on top of the other promises related to nuclear modernization, which have a price tag totaling over $80 billion, that the administration has offered in an effort to win over Senate Republicans.
A senior administration official, speaking to the Financial Times, warned if the treaty isn't ratified this year, all that money for the nuclear complex could go away. "There is a risk that not moving ahead [in the Senate now] could shatter the fragile consensus on modernizing the nuclear complex," the official said.
But a senior GOP aide tells The Cable on Tuesday that the GOP senators haven't actually received the new offer of money for the nuclear labs, nor have they received an updated version of a classified report on the nation's nuclear complex, known as the "1251 report."
"There was no offer of $4 billion for modernization. The administration hasn't even delivered the new 1251 plan yet," the aide said. When asked what this means for START ratification during the lame duck session, the aide said, "The administration's eleventh hour bid is coming two hours too late."
Administration officials say privately that they are becoming increasingly frustrated with Kyl, and increasingly skeptical that he is negotiating in good faith. They even sent a team to Arizona to present him with the administration's response to his requests, including the broad outlines of the additional $4 billion offer for modernization, one official said.
According to this administration official, Kyl asked the administration to secure the full 2011 budget request for modernization, to expedite the budget process for 2012, to show him the 2012 budget request before the Senate vote on New START, and to update the long-term plan that was submitted to Congress in May on modernization.
"They asked us for certain things, we worked through the process to give it to them," the administration source said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is waiting for the administration to strike a deal with Kyl before scheduling the debate and vote on New START. Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told The Hill, "Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year."
Meanwhile, senior administration officials keep driving home their message that New START must be done during the lame duck.
"Before this session of Congress ends, we urge senators to approve an arms control treaty that would again allow U.S. inspectors access to Russian strategic sites and reduce the number of nuclear weapons held by both nations to a level not seen since the 1950s," wrote Gates and Clinton in a Washington Post op-ed Monday. "Time is running out for this Congress."
President Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week that he was committed to ratifying the treaty during the lame duck session, calling it his "top foreign policy priority" for the rest of the year.
Some top Democrats are also calling for the treaty to be postponed until next year.
"I'm a firm yes vote, but the lame duck session should focus on jobs, the economy, and reducing the debt," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told The Cable. "We can take care of the START treaty after the first of the year."
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said Wednesday that he still believes the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia can be ratified during the lame duck session of Congress, despite calls from several Republican senators for more time to consider the agreement.
"I'm very hopeful. My expectation is that we're going to try to move to the START treaty and get the START treaty done, because it's a matter of national security," Kerry said on a conference call. "I would think [December] is likely, just given the overall schedule and the Thanksgiving break."
Kerry was calling from Israel, the last leg of his overseas trip that included stops in Sudan, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. He said he spoke Wednesday to the committee's ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), Vice President Joseph Biden, and that he put in a call to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key GOP leader on New START.
In remarks last week, Lugar wondered aloud whether there would be enough time to complete work on the treaty during the lame duck session and stated that some GOP senators would be opposed to taking up the treaty this year. Last week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treay in the committee, told The Cable he would prefer if the debate and vote were delayed until the next session of Congress.
But Kerry said Lugar's only concern was about whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would set aside enough floor time to properly vet the treaty. "[Lugar] is committed to doing it provided that Harry Reid is committed to putting it on the floor and giving it the time," Kerry said. Kerry and President Obama both have spoken to Reid about this. "[Reid] wants to get this done," Kerry said.
Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told The Hill, "Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year."
Manley is referring to the package of incentives Biden is putting together for Kyl in addition to the $80 billion the administration already pledged for nuclear modernization and nuclear stockpile maintenance. Biden has been working the phones with GOP senators and spoke with Kyl very recently, Kerry said.
Meanwhile, GOP fence-sitters John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this week at the Halifax National Security Forum that they want to see the New START treaty issue resolved, but they just don't know if it will happen.
"I'd like for us to resolve the START treaty issue, whether we will or not is just not clear to me," McCain said, without indicating whether he wanted to resolve it by passing it or voting it down.
Graham seemed to indicate he was for the treaty.
"I certainly am leaning towards, I definitely want a treaty because if you can reduce the number of launch vehicles and the number of warheads and still have a nuclear deterrent, that's a good move because it reduces your cost," he said. "So the trade I'm looking for is with the administration, that we'll negotiate a treaty with good numbers as long as you modernize the force that's left... I don't know if there's momentum for that in the lame duck or not."
Incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) isn't waiting until the new Congress comes into session to oppose some of the Obama administration's foreign policy positions. On Wednesday, she called for the White House to impose new sanctions on North Korea in light of a new report on Pyongyang's arms proliferation.
The U.N. Security Council released a report today that accuses North Korea of supplying ballistic missile and nuclear technology to Syria, Iran, and Burma. Authored by the so-called "Panel of Experts," which includes experts from U.S., the U.K., China, France, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The report was held up for months due to Chinese opposition to its release. The report claims that Pyongyang is flouting recent U.N. Security Council resolutions forbidding it from engaging in weapons proliferation.
"Evidence... indicates that the DPRK has continued to provide missiles, components, and technology to certain countries including Iran and Syria since the imposition of these measures," the report states. "The Panel of Experts is also looking into suspicious activity in Myanmar..."
That's enough for Ros-Lehtinen to call for the administration to back off its effort to reach out to North Korea.
"Instead of continuing its failed strategy of seeking to engage the regime in endless negotiation, the administration must ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang. At the upcoming G-20 summit in Seoul, President Obama must persuade the heads of state to call for the imposition of new and effective U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea," Ros-Lehtinen said.
"In addition, the U.S. and other responsible nations must use every means at their disposal to apply pressure on Pyongyang, the first step being to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism."
The State Department has made it clear that weapons transfers alone don't meet the legal threshold for relisting a country as a state sponsor of terrorism. And there's no sign the Obama administration's engagement with North Korea is picking up steam, considering that Pyongyang refuses to reaffirm the commitment to denuclearization it agreed to in 2007.
But Ros-Lehtinen is making it clear that she will be an aggressive critic of the administration's foreign policy positions as chairwoman, much as she was when she was ranking Republican on the committee. And she's making it clear that she's not afraid to ramp up the rhetoric to do it.
"This forthcoming report should be a wake-up call for the U.S. and other responsible nations," she said. "We must act quickly and firmly to stop North Korea's proliferation before it ends up costing American lives and those of our allies."
President Obama doubled down Thursday on the need to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia during the post-election lame duck session of Congress, echoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call on Sept. 30. But one Republican senator who voted for the treaty is convinced it's better to push the vote back until next year.
"This is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue, but rather an issue of American national security," Obama said. "And I am hopeful that we can get that done before we leave (at the end of the year) and send a strong signal to Russia that we are serious about reducing nuclear arsenals, but also send a signal to the world that we're serious about nonproliferation."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), one of three Republicans to vote for the treaty on Sept. 16 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hasn't yet committed to voting for the treaty on the floor. He now says that he doesn't think there's enough time in the post-election congressional session to properly debate and vote on the pact.
"Senator Corker believes it is far more appropriate to deal with major pieces of legislation like this in settings other than a lame duck session," Todd Womack, his chief of staff, told The Cable.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar (R-IN), who supports the treaty, has been calling for the Senate to act faster and would have preferred to deal with the issue before the midterm elections. But Lugar did acknowledge in Oct. 27 remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations that big gains by the GOP in the election would make completing the Senate's work on New START more difficult.
"Some, I suspect, will argue that the lame-duck session is not a good time to do that," Lugar said. "I have no idea what the results will be of the election, but in the event that there are very substantial changes, and many of them on the Republican side, some will say this is something we really haven't had a chance to get into, to study, and we want more time."
Lugar turned out to be right. Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who is leading the ratification effort in the Senate, has said he only needs two or three days of floor time to give everybody a chance to air their views and consider "reservations" that senators may want to bring up and vote on.
Of course, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) can keep the Senate in session as long as he wants. It's a time-honored tactic in Congress to force senators to stay in town as the winter vacation approaches, thus making them choose between a principled stand on an issue and their desire to go home for the holidays.
And there is plenty of precedent for passing major legislation during lame duck sessions. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in the post-election period in 1970. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, a piece of legislation that served as the foundation on which the World Trade Organization was created was passed during the lame duck session in 1994, just after the last GOP wave election. In 2002, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security during the lame duck session.
There's also precedent for Congress passing treaties with bipartisan support after a changeover of control. The Senate provided advice and consent on the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty Flank Agreement after the Democrats lost control in 1994.
But that was then and this is now. And if Corker and Lugar are skeptical that the START treaty can be completed this year, the Russian Duma apparently agrees with them. The Duma repealed its recommendation for Russian ratification of New START immediately after the U.S. election results came in.
"If the 'lame duck' senators from the old make-up cannot do this in the next weeks then the chances of ratification in the new Senate will be radically lower than they were until now," Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, told the Interfax news agency.
If the treaty is pushed to next year, the more conservative Senate might not ratify it, Kosachev said.
"Many will be in principle against agreeing on anything with Russia. In that case we will have to start from scratch. That is the worst-case scenario -- completely awful. For now, I do not want to believe in it."
John Podesta, the president of the Center for American Progress, said Thursday on MSNBC that the GOP positioning on the START treaty will be an indicator of how the GOP plans to deal with Obama going forward. "Will Senator McConnell... get [START] done and go along with [the President]. ... If he says no we are just going to be into obstructionism and the just-say-no-party," Podesta said. "We'll at least know where the Republican leadership stands."
Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation's lobbying arm Heritage Action for American started sending out mailers to 10 states on Thursday, targeting GOP supporters on the treaty, GOP senators who are on the fence, and Democratic senators in red states. The mailer states that the treaty will "lead to more nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue countries like North Korea and Iran."
The administration is reportedly preparing a final package of promises on issues like nuclear modernization to try to garner the support of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key GOP vote, while simultaneously noting that, after holding dozens of hearings and answering hundreds of questions from the Hill, senators should have enough information to make their decision and move on the treaty now.
"There's no sense in putting off what we need now to the next Congress," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday.
"The Senate has a responsibility to do its job and not waste time," said treaty supporter Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "Further delaying a vote on New START hurts U.S. national security."
Following Tuesday's election, one of the biggest foreign policy questions is whether far-right groups will press mainstream Republicans to resist key items on the Obama administration's international agenda, such as the New START treaty with Russia.
Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, answered that question in the affirmative Thursday by sending out a new mailer across the country targeting specific senators, mostly Republicans, in the hope of pressuring them to vote against the treaty. The campaign targets Democratic senators in conservative states, Republican senators in liberal states, and even Republicans who have indicated support for New START, such as Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).
"Why did Senator Bob Corker vote in committee to put Russia's military interests ahead of our own," reads one iteration of the mailing, referring to Corker's vote to approve the treaty in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 16. With a picture juxtaposing the images of Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the mailer alleges that President Obama and lawmakers are using the "lame duck" session of Congress to ram through the New START treaty, which it argues "severely weakens our national security."
Heritage also alleges that the treaty, which would cut levels of the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons arsenals, would somehow lead to more nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, which the mailer refers to as "countries that want to destroy us."
"There's still time to put a stop to this dangerous plan," the mailer says. "You can make a difference by urging Sen. Corker to change his mind and oppose New START."
Responding directly to the mailer, Corker's Chief of Staff Todd Womack told The Cable that Heritage's mailer contains several errors and promotes several misconceptions about the New START treaty.
"Obviously if the claims made in the mailer were true, there is no way Senator Corker would support the treaty, but they are not. Senator Corker would never support a treaty that undermines the safety and security of the citizens of the United States or limits America's ability to pursue effective missile defense, and to suggest otherwise is irresponsible," Womack said.
Corker is also still awaiting firm commitments from the administration for what he considers long overdue investments in the modernization of the nuclear arsenal before committing to voting "yes" on the floor, he added.
Heritage's strategy includes targeting Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), considered to be the key vote on New START because he can potentially bring large parts of the GOP caucus in tow. The White House is said to be preparing new concessions on issues that Kyl has long advocated, such as even more funding for nuclear modernization and nuclear labs. So far, Kyl has not shown his cards.
The administration also has a fallback plan if Kyl ultimately balks: The State Department and the Vice President's office have been courting moderate Republicans, including Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, along with Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, in an attempt to peel off the 8 to 10 GOP votes needed to reach the 67-vote threshold for ratification. Though it seems unlikely that so many Senate Republicans would buck party leadership, the administration's earlier outreach to Corker and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) was helpful in getting both those senators to support the New START treaty in committee last month.
The Heritage effort targets all of those GOP senators, and also Democratic senators from red states such as Montana's Max Baucus and Jon Tester. In Utah, Bob Bennett has indicated he is inclined to support New START, making him a target as well.
Heritage has been working with presumptive 2012 candidate Mitt Romney on the issue. Other Tea Party-related groups such as Liberty Central, run by Clarence Thomas' wife Ginny Thomas, are also on board. But it's not clear that the New START treaty is an issue that voters really follow, much less vote on.
Heritage claims that it wants to pressure various senators to get off the fence and declare their position on New START, one way or the other.
"For too long, senators have stood quietly on the sidelines, refusing to take a firm stand on the issue," said Michael Needham, Heritage's chief executive officer. "Given the administration's desire to see the treaty ratified during a lame-duck session, Americans deserve to know what is at stake and where their senators stand."
On Thursday, President Obama called for the Senate to take up the treaty during the lame duck session. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is said to be waiting until the White House tells him that it has secured enough "yes" votes before scheduling floor time for the vote. The Senate returns to town with two new senators on Nov. 15, neither of whom has taken a position on New START.
When 29 countries meet in Lisbon for the NATO summit on Nov. 19, the goal will be to define what the future of the alliance -- built to fight the Cold War -- will be, in the less defined but arguably more dangerous world of the 21st century.
"We're launching NATO 3.0," Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told a group of foreign policy wonks Friday morning at the New America Foundation. (Version 1.0 began after World War II; version 2.0 spanned from the end of the Cold War until today, apparently.) "It is no longer just about Europe… It's not a global alliance but it is a global actor."
In addition to unveiling the new "strategic concept," which will include new focuses on missile defense and cyber security, the summit will tackle thorny issues such as NATO's relationships with rising world powers, and how the alliance should conclude its current non-Europe mission, the war in Afghanistan.
"We need to look for opportunities to work with countries we haven't worked with before, like India, China, and Brazil," Daalder said. "The question of whether NATO will be operating globally is solved. It's done. We're there."
With the recent announcement that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will attend the summit, the focus on Russia will be front and center. There will be some kind of an announcement of NATO's intention to resume cooperation with Russia on missile defense that was scuttled after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
There's no decision yet whether that will be a formal agreement with detailed plans for cooperation, but there will be definitely be a separate announcement that NATO will institutionalize and expand its missile defense activities on its own, Daalder said.
"NATO will be in the business of defending its territory from ballistic missile attack," he said.
Of course, reports today note that Turkey is standing in the way of that agreement, but that's one of the things the summit is meant to address.
Daalder was optimistic about the progress of the war in Afghanistan, saying that although the formal evaluation of the current strategy is forthcoming, he already sees great progress in battling the Taliban and in the training of the Afghan security forces. He expects the transfer of provinces to Afghan control to begin in the first half of 2011.
"We are seeing the corner and we can peek around it. The strategy we have embarked upon… that's beginning to work," he said. "The Taliban has been hurt significantly by the introduction of 30,000 additional troops… We've been quite successful in hitting them quite hard… We see a beginning of a change in the fight in most places."
As for NATO expansion, an administration official said that NATO's position on adding new countries has not changed, meaning that the door is still open for Macedonia and Georgia, although the official didn't identify any signs that there would be movement on those applications. Ukraine, which had wanted to become a member, no longer seeks to join NATO.
The official said the sessions will also address the issue of whether to keep some 200 nuclear weapons stationed in Europe, a debate that is not yet resolved.
"Stay tuned. This will be an issue that will be discussed up until the last minute," the official said.
Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger returned from a trip to Moscow with Silicon Valley executives with a strong message for those who are fighting against ratification of the New START nuclear treaty with Russia.
"There are those in America that are trying to flex their muscles and pretend they're ballsy by saying, ‘we've got to keep those nuclear weapons,'" the governator told the U.S.-Russia Business Council Oct. 21. "[They think] that's very rugged, when you say that. It's not rugged at all. It's an idiot that says that. It's stupid to say that."
He praised President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for signing the agreement to reduce both countries' stockpiles of nuclear weapons and said they were in the tradition of the arms control efforts by former President Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of State George Shultz.
He called on the Senate to ratify the treaty during the post election lame duck session in Congress, as the administration has been pushing for.
"So as soon as the election is over we've all got to concentrate so that Congress makes their move forward and does that so that we can go and live in a safer world. That's the most important thing," said Schwarzenegger.
He blamed the delay in ratifying the treaty on Congressional paralysis in the run up to the Nov. 2 election. "Now Congress has to go and agree with that and ratify it… They haven't done that because there is a paralysis in Washington, which is the sad story when you live here."
So who exactly is the former body builder turned movie star turned politician calling ballsy idiots? Well, four Senators came out against publicly START by voting against in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: John Barrasso (R-WY), James Risch (R-ID), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and James Inhofe (R-OK).
South Carolina senator and Tea Party funder Jim DeMint is a vocal opponent of New START, although he did not show up for the committee vote on the treaty. DeMint is an avowed skeptic of the U.S. effort to reset relations with Russia, which he still sometimes confuses with the Soviet Union.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), the administration's key (and only) GOP Senate ally on New START, told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday that a vote during the lame duck session might not be in the cards if Republicans score big gains on Nov. 2.
"I have no idea what the results of the election will be, but in the event that there are very substantial changes and many of them on the Republican side, some will say, ‘This [treaty] is something that we really haven't had a chance to get into and study, and we want more time,'" Lugar said, according to The Hill.
Meanwhile, Barrasso on Wednesday explicitly linked the New START treaty with an incident on Saturday morning where, according to the Atlantic, an ICBM squadron "went on the blink." The result was that 50 ICBM's were unavailable for launch for a short time. Some in the GOP seem to be adding this to the very long list of concerns they have with the treaty.
"The accident shows that the United States has far more nuclear weapons than it needs for any conceivable military mission. Even without the 50 ICBMs, the United States had 400 other ICBMs similarly armed ready to launch within 15 minutes," said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which supports ratification. "It also has 1500 additional warheads on 12 Trident submarines and a fleet of bombers ready to go. The New Start treaty trims that overkill capacity by a few hundred weapons over 7 years. We will still have enough destructive force in the US arsenal to destroy the planet."
Top administration officials told The Cable Tuesday that they are working hard to secure a floor vote for the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia during Congress's post-election lame duck session.
"We are looking to pursue a final vote on the floor before the end of the year and we think it's very important to continue working very hard in that direction," said Rose Gottemoeller, the treaty's lead negotiator and assistant secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation. "Every day that goes by is another day we do not have inspectors on the ground in the Russian Federation… We're going to continue to do everything we can over the coming weeks to see it ratified and entered into force this year."
Of course, that's the position Secretary of State Hillary Clinton staked out earlier this month. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said the treaty was a top priority when Congress reconvenes after Nov. 2. But there's still no word on how the administration plans to woo the votes of Senate Republicans, especially Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who stands as the single main obstacle to the administration's goal of securing the 67 votes needed for ratification because so many GOP senators have said they will follow his lead.
The administration, led in this effort by Vice President Joseph Biden's office, has been reaching out to mostly moderate GOP senators to make their case for ratification, including Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. But there's a realization both inside the government and out that finding enough Republican votes to ratify New START will be nearly impossible -- unless Kyl decides to come off the fence and support the pact.
"I think we can get to 67 votes, but not until Kyl and the administration come to an agreement," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World and a strong supporter of the treaty. "If there's a deal with Kyl, the 67 votes will materialize."
Kyl communicated his latest set of concerns with the treaty in a secret letter last month, but his perspective on the treaty is well understood. He wants the administration's assurance that it will support huge increases for nuclear stockpile management and nuclear modernization, extending 10 years into the future.
Thomas P. D'Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the nuclear stockpile, explained exactly how and why the administration thinks it has done enough to satisfy Kyl. He said the administration's fiscal 2011 budget request includes a five-year plan that outlines funding for nuclear modernization and that the White House has laid out a 10-year plan to spend $80 billion to rebuild the United States' nuclear capability and deterrent. He also touted a 600-page stockpile stewardship and management plan provided to Congress that goes out 20 years.
"Taken together, this clearly shows our commitment to providing the resources, clearly required to modernize the infrastructure, reinvest in science, and restore the human capital that we need," D'Agostino said.
Exactly why that isn't enough to satisfy Kyl is unclear. Some experts say that, if Kyl is demanding concrete assurances for funding for years way out in the future, he is asking for more than what the administration can promise.
"The issue holding up progress is whether Kyl is personally satisfied with funding for the nuclear modernization budget," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "If he is seeking multi-year appropriations for the NNSA weapons activities budget, which is now at $7 billion, that is just not in the cards. The appropriators are not going to go for that, OMB is not going to go for that, he is asking for something that this administration simply cannot deliver."
There is already a lot of frustration among supporters of the treaty that the vote on ratification was allowed to slip to the point where the lame duck session has become so crucial. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) is said to be extremely frustrated, a fact that he may indicate when he delivers a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations Wednesday afternoon.
Regardless, the bottom line is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will not schedule a vote until he hears from the administration that they have 67 votes assured, and that probably can't happen until Kyl shows his cards.
So will the vote happen in the lame duck session or not?
"Anyone who says they know, don't know. It may not happen, but it may happen," said Isaacs. "Of course it's frustrating, but everything happens slowly in the Senate."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added a new stop to her whirlwind tour of Asia that begins tomorrow, agreeing to travel to China for a meeting with State Counselor Dai Bingguo. Rather than meet in Hanoi, where both U.S. and Chinese delegations will be present for the East Asia Summit, the meeting will take place on Hainan Island -- a location fraught with political meaning for the two countries.
In April 2001, Hainan Island captured the attention of Washington when a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet and crash landed there. The Chinese detained the 24 crew members for 11 days until the Bush administration delivered what became known as the "Letter of the two sorries." Your humble Cable guy was an intern at the House International Relations Committee at the time and remembers well the tension and angst in Washington regarding the Chinese government's behavior during the incident, which constituted President George W. Bush's first real foreign policy crisis.
Fast forward to this week, when Clinton will land on the island (hopefully safely) at Chinese behest, during a less panicked but arguably more complicated juncture in the U.S.-China relationship. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters Tuesday that the meeting is part of the effort to increase high-level interactions at the top of the U.S.-China relationship, though he downplayed the significance of the location.
"I think State Counselor Dai had contemplated a trip to Vietnam, and then for a variety of scheduling purposes, the Chinese side thought it would make more sense for a quick visit to Hainan," he said. "I think it's nothing out of the ordinary. It's in many respects just a convenience for Chinese friends in particular."
But he also acknowledged that there is a lot of work to do on both sides to bring the U.S.-China relationship back to a point where President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao can have a successful meeting in Washington early next year.
"We are seriously engaged in high-level diplomacy to ensure that this trip and the preparations in advance for it go smoothly," Campbell said.
The location of high-level meetings is not insignificant. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with his Chinese counterpart this month on neutral ground in Hanoi after months of cool military to military relations, which began after the Chinese rejected Gates' offer to visit China. Hanoi is also the location where Clinton laid out the administration's view on the South China Sea dispute in a speech that shocked and upset the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, a lot of reporting in Washington this week has suggested that the Obama administration's new strategy is to build up alliances in Asia while "stiffening its approach toward Beijing." Administration officials tell us that this "stiffening" started as early as last May after the Gates snub and alliance-building has been taking place since the beginning of the administration. But only just now is it showing dividends in public, as was seen during Clinton's last visit to Hanoi, where several other nations stood up to support her remarks.
Campbell explains the balance of the two efforts this way:
"The United States wants very much a strong, productive relationship with China. We're seeking to intensify our dialogue on a range of issues," he said. "We're also working closely with a number of states in the Asian-Pacific region, most prominently to underscore the U.S. strong commitment to remain an active, engaged, diplomatic, political, security and economic player in the Asian-Pacific region going forward at this time."
Campbell also dismissed a Washington Times report that said the administration's China team is divided into two groups: the "kowtow group" that seeks to placate Beijing and the "sad and disappointed" group that is arguing for a tougher tone.
"I think that the discussion of this kind of division is wrong, is incorrect. And myself as a person, I think of myself as quite optimistic, generally," Campbell said.
AFP / Getty Images
Congress may not be in charge of making foreign policy, but it sure can influence its implementation. Since taking office in January 2009, members of Congress -- drawn primarily but not exclusively from the ranks of the GOP -- have slowed the Obama administration's efforts to advance its strategy when dealing with Russia, Syria, Israel, Cuba, and a host of other relationships. And the midterm elections won't be making things any easier for President Barack Obama.
GOP lawmakers stand to play a huge role in the upcoming debates next year over the promised July 2011 drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, whether to maintain or increase U.S. foreign assistance packages, and how strongly to press countries such as Russia and China to implement new sanctions against Iran.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Pentagon delayed planned joint U.S.-South Korea naval exercises that were to be held in the Yellow Sea near China this week, but not as a concession to China, multiple Pentagon officials tell The Cable.
"We absolutely and categorically did not scale back in order to placate Beijing," a defense official said. "The decision to postpone was due solely to the complexities of the planning process, and not about China. We are working on planning for joint exercises intended to send a clear message to Korea about its behavior and its actions."
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell was adamant. "We have caved to no one," he said. "The USS George Washington will exercise in Yellow Sea again, just as we have always said it would."
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Monday that the exercises, which had been planned for this week, were delayed so as to not cause friction with China ahead of the November 11 G-20 talks in Seoul. The U.S. and South Korea avoided the Yellow Sea when conducting joint military exercises in July amid protests from both China and North Korea, but promised to resume using those waters for drills as part of their effort to show alliance strength in the wake of the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan.
The U.S. military did conduct some anti-submarine warfare exercises in the Yellow Sea in Septemberg, but no carriers were present.
The issue of U.S. military exercises in the Yellow Sea has become contentious due to China's increasing assertiveness over control of maritime areas near its borders. In a related dispute, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton staked out the U.S. position over the South China Sea during her visit to Hanoi in August, saying, "The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion."
The U.S. and China resumed military-to-military dialogue this month, after months of not speaking to each other following a unilateral departure from ongoing talks by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The PLA cut off talks in May and rejected a visit to China by Defense Secretary Robert Gates due to its longstanding objections to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
Meanwhile, there is increasing angst in Washington about the role China is playing as the de facto defender of North Korea in wake of the Cheonan sinking. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) just released a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) that raises serious questions about how China may be undermining international sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom.
CRS wrote that "China constitutes a large gap in the circle of countries that have approved U.N.S.C. Resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009) and are expected to implement them."
North Korea still transits goods by land and air through China with little or no threat of inspection, and the flow of luxury goods from China to the Kim Jong-Il regime continues unabated. CRS reported that Pyongyang is using several front companies in China to circumvent U.N. sanctions.
"Because China takes a minimalist approach to implementing sanctions on North Korea, it has proven difficult to strengthen measures any further in the U.N. context," the CRS report noted. "Overall, the United State appears to place a higher priority on implementation of U.N. sanctions on Iran than on North Korea."
"The findings include a stark reminder that U.S. and China interests regarding North Korea are largely incongruent," Lugar said in a statement. "China's less than rigorous approach toward implementing sanctions targeting North Korea should be a wake-up call to this White House in the ongoing development of its North Korea strategy."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear she wants to see a full Senate vote on the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia during the post-election "lame duck" session of Congress. But three Senate seats will immediately change hands after the election, complicating efforts to reach the still-elusive 67-vote threshold needed to ratify the treaty.
Three sitting Democratic senators were appointed to ride out the terms for their retiring colleagues and will hand over their seats immediately after the Nov. 2 election. The winners of the Senate races in West Virginia, Illinois, and Delaware will begin their terms during the lame duck session, and will potentially be placed in the position of voting on the New START, the first major arms control vote in 10 years, as one of their first acts as members of Congress.
Of course, the vote on New START could slip to next year, especially considering that GOP senators continue to throw up roadblocks and refuse to say whether they will ultimately vote for the pact. But that's a worst-case scenario for the administration, because then it might be forced to woo 8 to 10 new GOP senators. But even if the Obama administration gets its wish and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) schedules the vote in November or December, they still will have to deal with a changed Senate landscape. And, even if Democrats win all three of these elections, their "yes" votes are not assured.
Take, for example, the statement e-mailed to The Cable by the campaign of West Virginian Democratic Senate candidate Joe Manchin, who is leading Republican John Raese by only 1.5 points, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
"Joe Manchin's governing philosophy on defense policy will be to listen to our commanders and generals on the ground, and before he can cast a vote for or against START II, he will need to assess their recommendations," said his spokesperson Lara Ramsburg.
The Cable tried to follow up and ask the Manchin campaign who, exactly, the "commanders on the ground" are that Manchin would consult on New START. The leaders of the Pentagon have all come out in support of the treaty, so is Manchin waiting for Gen. David Petraeus to weigh in? A military official who inspects missile silos in Russia? We received no follow-up response.
Regardless, the administration can't safely count Manchin as a "yes" vote on the treaty based on that statement.
Raese's campaign spokesman Kevin Mclaughlin was more direct. "John Raese opposes the New START treaty," he said. Clear enough. If he wins, that's one previously safe "yes" vote on the treaty that goes out the window.
Turning to Illinois, the results of the election will have a direct impact on the Senate support for New START. Democrat Alexi Giannoulias said, through an e-mailed statement to The Cable, that nuclear weapons proliferation "is one of the most important national security threats facing the United States... I support the ratification of the new START nuclear arms control agreement reached with Russia, which will reduce both arsenals by one-third, and hope that it will be swiftly ratified by the Senate."
But Giannoulias trails Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) by 1.8 points, according to the latest RCP average, and Kirk is decidedly undecided on the issue. "The congressman will review the details of the treaty carefully and make his decision based on what is in the best interest of America's national security," his campaign spokesman Richard Goldberg said.
Kirk is a foreign policy expert and has a track record of working with Democrats on national security issues, so when push comes to shove, the Obama administration may be able to convince him. Right now, though, he's firmly aligned with the vast majority of Republican senators, who have yet to announce how they will vote on New START.
Over in Delaware, GOP candidate Christine O'Donnell's position tracks very closely with the GOP senators who still have serious concerns about the treaty and are pushing for a delay in the vote.
"I would look very carefully at any treaty before the U.S. Senate," O'Donnell told The Cable in an e-mailed statement. "There is nothing wrong in principle with reducing nuclear weapons as long as it is verifiable and we ensure that we can meet all of our defense requirements. There are several concerns with New START Treaty as it stands before the U.S. Senate right now. ... Before I could vote in support of New START, each of these concerns would have to be fully addressed."
She mentioned concerns that the treaty could constrain U.S. missile defense, questions about Obama's plan for nuclear modernization, and Russia's cooperation in combating the nuclear ambitions of Iran. Six senators renewed their complaints about missile defense this week, asking the administration to assure them that ongoing talks between the United States and Russia wouldn't result in a "missile defense agreement" that would limit U.S. plans.
The State Department has repeatedly denied that any such agreement is in the works, but the senators want them to reveal the details of the discussions, which administration has no intention of doing.
Delaware's Democratic candidate Chris Coons, who leads O'Donnell by 17.6 points in the polls, didn't respond to repeated requests for an explanation of his position on New START.
The exact vote count is crucial, because Reid is not likely to schedule the floor debate and vote until he is assured by the White House that it has 67 confirmed "yes" votes. Our Senate sources tell us that Reid is waiting for that exact signal from the White House.
A Senate leadership aide would only say that New START is on a list of things that are "possible" for the lame duck session.
The treaty's backers in the administration, both at State and on Capitol Hill, are exasperated after what they feel has been a herculean effort to build support for the treaty on the Hill, including answering hundreds of questions from Congress, holding dozens of hearings, and briefing senators and their staffs on a constant basis.
But lawmakers and administration officials know that lame duck sessions are notoriously unpredictable and, therefore, nobody is counting on the vote definitely happening this year.
"We're taking nothing for granted and we're addressing every concern and giving every reassurance where we can," an administration official told The Cable. "That's where we are."
CQ-Roll Call Group
The increasingly bitter Illinois Senate campaign between Republican Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) and the Democratic contender, Alexi Giannoulias, spilled over into foreign policy this week, as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman (D-CA) accused Kirk of exaggerating his role in crafting the Iran sanctions law. But who's really spinning the history of the bill for political gain?
Alluding to Kirk's previous misrepresentations about his military service, the Chicago Sun Times broke the story Monday with an article entitled, "Another Mark Kirk 'exaggeration'?" complete with a video of Kirk claiming credit for being a driving force behind what eventually became the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, which President Obama signed into law in July.
"The Iran Sanctions Bill, it was originally Kirk-Andrews, but if you were going to move it, that means you need to adjust to the power of the House. This legislation eventually became Howard Berman's legislation," Kirk told the Sun Times.
The article then quoted Berman saying that his bill calling for petroleum sanctions against Iran had nothing to do with Kirk's previous bill calling for the exact same thing. "We didn't even look at his legislation at the time. Our bill did so much more and went so far beyond his bill, I would have to put it in the context of an exaggeration," Berman said.
Giannoulias, who enjoys Berman's support, called Kirk's claim that his bill was the framework for Berman's bill "egregious" and demanded an explanation.
But according to lawmakers, Congressional staffers, and outside groups who worked closely on the legislation, Kirk was in fact a key advocate for over four years of using gasoline and refined petroleum restrictions to pressure Iran to make concessions regarding its nuclear program.
In fact, Berman worked so closely with Kirk and others on the idea that media reports at the time acknowledged that Berman's Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, introduced in April 2009, borrowed language from related legislation introduced earlier by Kirk and Rep. Brad Sherman.
Even Democratic Congressional staffers gave Kirk credit for leading on the idea of petroleum sanction for Iran. They said that Berman's bill was clearly built off of Kirk's work, and criticized Berman for politicizing such a sensitive foreign policy issue.
"On this particular issue, Kirk has been a leader, if not the leader. When you talk about Iran petroleum sanctions, you talk about Mark Kirk," said one Democratic Hill staffer who worked on the bill.
"I'm all for a Democrat winning that seat, but this is not the way to do it," the staffer said. "It hurts our standing as Democrats in the pro-Israel community, because when you go to the pro-Israel community and say to them that Kirk didn't play a leading role, it just makes it hard to believe the next statement that comes out of our mouths."
Others who followed the progression of the Iran sanctions legislation closely also credited Kirk with a long history of leadership on this issue.
"There's no question that Mark Kirk was one of the first, if not the first member of Congress to advocate restricting the flow of gasoline to Iran as a way of pressuring Iran on its nuclear program," said Josh Block, who was the chief spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which was intimately involved in the bill's legislative journey.
Block, who now runs a strategic communications firm with Democratic consultant Lanny Davis, said that, after years of building momentum on various versions of Kirk's proposal, the decision was made to transfer ownership of the bill to Berman in order to allow it to garner a vote and pass with leadership support.
"There was a progression of bills that all did virtually identical things," Block said, explaining that this is a normal and commonplace legislative strategy and that Berman does deserve credit for aiding in the final push.
Kirk started his formal advocacy for the petroleum sanctions idea in 2005, when he founded the Iran Working Group, a congressional group that gathered information on sanctions options. In June 2005, he and Rep. Rob Andrews first introduced a resolution calling for restrictions of gasoline to Iran (H.Con.Res.177). In June 2006, they introduced that resolution again (H.Con.Res.425).
In June 2007, Kirk and Andrews introduced a more comprehensive bill, called the Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act, which included restrictions on the importation of refined petroleum (H.R. 2880). In April 2009, after Obama took office, Andrews got cold feet so Kirk moved forward with Sherman and introduced the Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act (H.R. 1985).
When Berman introduced his Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act at the end of April 2009, its original cosponsors included Kirk, as well as Andrews, Sherman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and others. When the bill passed the House in December 2009, Berman didn't object when Kirk said on the House floor that he and Andrews were "the two grandfathers of this bill and its policy."
Kirk's staffers point out that Berman has a history of cooperating well with Kirk in non-election years and then turning on him when the campaign starts. For example, Berman stumped for Kirk's opponent when Kirk first ran for an open seat in 2000 and then again endorsed his opponent in 2008. Still, they lament that years of cooperation on Iran have been reduced to a war of words over who gets credit.
"This is a desperate move by a desperate candidate with no foreign policy chops of his own," Kirk spokesman Richard Goldberg said about Giannoulias' efforts to make an issue of the Iran bill. "With no record to stand on, Alexi Giannoulias recruited someone with a history of hyper-partisan behavior just before an election to contradict his own previous statements when the legislation passed and level untruths against a well-established leader on the issue of Iran sanctions."
Berman's office did not respond to requests for comment.
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