At today's Senate Foreign Relations committee business meeting on New START, chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Republican Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) got into an open argument about whether the United States should build a giant missile defense system to protect every American citizen around the world.
That's the idea put forth by DeMint in an amendment to the resolution of ratification that the committee is considering, in advance of a full senate debate and vote on the nuclear reductions treaty after the November elections. DeMint said at the meeting that if the United States is going to draw down its nuclear arsenal, it should commit to building missile defense such that every U.S. citizen and all U.S. troops abroad are protected.
"This START agreement does not defend the people of the United States," DeMint said. "This amendment commits us and the United States of America to defend the United States to the best of our ability with a missile defense system capable of shooting down multiple missiles."
In an interview with The Cable during a break in the meeting, DeMint said he wanted to scuttle the entire idea of mutually assured destruction, the basic framework of nuclear balancing that has governed the U.S.-Russia security relationship for decades, and build a missile defense system that could defend against Russia.
"If we can shoot down their missiles, they won't build nuclear weapons," DeMint said. "We are agreeing with the START treaty to continue the policy of mutually assured destruction, which doesn't protect the American people."
Kerry was visibly frustrated with what he and other committee Democrats saw as a set up that would put them in the position of casting a vote that could later be portrayed as being against defending America.
"We can have a vote whether or not we are going to have a new arms race or whether or not we are going to move in the opposite direction," he said.
Kerry said the DeMint amendment would have the "simple effect of killing the treaty" because it would force the U.S. and Russia back to the drawing table for protracted follow-on negotiations.
He bristled at DeMint's implications that the START treaty leaves Americans vulnerable to attack and he rejected DeMint's assertion that the policy of mutually assured destruction was dangerous for American security.
"The notion that strategic defense does not protect strategic stability is absurd," Kerry said at the hearing.
In a brief interview with The Cable, Kerry said that DeMint "wants to build a missile defense system that covers the whole world."
Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), the newest champion of the START treaty, said at the hearing that he does not believe the treaty constrains U.S. missile defense plans but he nevertheless supported DeMint's amendment.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), came to Kerry's defense. "No president of either party has advocated a missile defense system geared toward Russia ever since the Cold War ended," she said.
But then, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) also came out in support of DeMint's amendment, which meant that it might pass, forcing Kerry to take it seriously. When the committee broke for a short break, Kerry huddled with Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemeoller, who was waiting in an adjoining room. He then scrambled to meet with DeMint and Corker, presumably to work out a compromise.
The Democrats definitely see DeMint's amendment as a political stunt.
"If you really want this to be something other than a political message, perhaps we can take a couple of days and work on it," said Webb, who promised to vote for the DeMint amendment either way because agreed with the basic thrust of it.
"[Demint's] just building up enough material to make a 30-second campaign ad," The Cable overheard one Democratic senator say in the elevator. "That's what this is really about."
Following the backroom meetings, Kerry and DeMint agreed to compromise language, which hasn't been released because it was being written up furiously, but does endorse the idea of eventually moving away from mutually assured destruction, according to Kerry.
"That's something we all have tried to move away from for a long time and something we should try to work on in the future," he said.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to approve Sen. Richard Lugar's resolution of ratification for the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia this morning, but not before Sen. James Risch tried to stop the vote from happening due to what he called an alarming intelligence issue was brought to senators this week.
Risch tried to stop the hearing at the outset, saying that he had been approached by the "intelligence community" with shocking information that if true would fundamentally impact the treaty and should prevent the committee from proceeding in any way. He did not specify what the information was but implored chairman John Kerry (D-MA), to postpone the vote.
Kerry acknowledged that the intelligence community had come to committee with a last minute issue and he said he made efforts to make sure all committee members' offices were aware of the secret issue. But he declined to postpone the vote and said the issue would be vetted thoroughly before the full Senate votes.
"It is inappropriate for us to have any discussion in open session in any substance of the information," Kerry said. But he made clear he viewed the issue seriously and even spoke personally with Vice President Joseph Biden about the issue.
"The conclusion of the intelligence community is that it in no way alters their judgment, already submitted to this committee, about the substance of the treaty... We would not have proceeded today if this information had any effect on this vote or the substance of this treaty," Kerry said. "Before we go to the floor, this issue will further be vetted by the intelligence community and everybody else."
Several Hill sources declined to comment due to the fact that the information was classified.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is now supporting the treaty, said he attended a briefing yesterday about the issue and said it would not affect his support.
Overall, Kerry endorsed the resolution of ratification put forth by Lugar, which the committee voted to replace a previously circulated version by Kerry.
"I have been particularly pleased to work with Senator Lugar to develop a resolution that we can all support," Kerry said in his opening statement for today's committee business meeting in the Dirksen Office Building, where the vote on the treaty will take place in about an hour. "This is a draft that reflects all of our views and I look forward to the committee adopting it."
He also implored senators to put aside politics and ratify the treaty soon as a matter of national security.
"The stakes are significant," Kerry said. "By ratifying this treaty, we will limit Russia's nuclear arsenal. We will regain the ability to inspect their nuclear forces. And we will redouble international support for our nonproliferation efforts.""
Kerry touted the dozens of hearings held on the issue, the testimony of current and former officials in both parties, and the hundreds of answers to questions submitted by Congress. He said the administration had provided a summary of the negotiating record, although not the full record, as some GOP senators demanded.
Kerry has been quarterbacking the ratification process since April, but recently Lugar has become the center of gravity in the START ratification process because his version of the resolution for ratification is the one that the administration, Kerry's staff, and several GOP senate offices have been working on. He raised it at the meeting as a "substitute amendment" to an earlier version floated by Kerry.
Lugar said his amendment brought in the concerns of senators and should alleviate any concerns about the treaty have a constraining impact on the plans to deploy ballistic missile defense program, a key concern of lots of GOP senators, including Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ).
"My substitute amendment covers at length concerns raised about missile defense... the treaty places no limitation on the deployment of missile defense... and the 2010 unilateral statement by the Russian federation about missile defense does not impose any legal obligation on the United States."
The full Senate won't debate the treaty until after the November elections, Kerry has said.
As the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia heads to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote Thursday morning, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee is outlining his numerous concerns with the treaty.
"While I support many of the New START treaty's goals, a number of significant flaws must be addressed by the Senate prior to endorsing ratification," wrote Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a Sept. 14 letter to SFRC committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), obtained exclusively by The Cable.
"If the New START treaty is to be in the national security interests of the United States, the Senate's resolution of advice and consent to ratification must at a minimum establish binding prohibitions against constraints on ballistic missile defense; a long term commitment to the long term modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and the nuclear triad, limitations on the authority of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), and assurances that future arms control negotiations with Russia address reductions in tactical nuclear weapons."
McCain has never indicated whether he will ultimately vote in favor of the treaty. In a brief interview with The Cable on Tuesday, he would only say that "serious discussions are still ongoing," referring to negotiations between Senate Republicans and the Obama administration.
Although most of McCain's issues are addressed in the latest version of the resolution of ratification put forth by Lugar, his demands in some cases seem to go further than the current language of the Lugar resolution. This suggests that McCain and other Republicans will continue to seek changes to Lugar's resolution to strengthen the language as it makes its way through the ratification process.
Republicans who are still unsatisfied by what Lugar and the administration have negotiated will have two opportunities to make changes. At Thursday's hearing, several Republican committee members are expected to offer amendments to Lugar's resolution, but those will need Democratic committee support in order to be adopted.
Non-committee Republicans will also be able to offer amendments and statements of "reservations" when the treaty comes to the Senate floor. But it is unlikely that any vote will happen before the midterm elections and, during what could be a very short lame-duck session, the appetite for debating changes to the resolution could be scarce.
Regardless, the McCain letter shows that leading Republicans, including McCain's Arizona colleague Jon Kyl, have still not completely signed on. McCain is not opposing the Lugar resolution, but he's not endorsing it either. As the endgame for START ratification takes shape, the administration still has a lot of heavy lifting to do if they want the support of leading GOP senators like John McCain.
The Cable has obtained the final version of Sen. Richard Lugar's (R-IN) resolution to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia.
This latest draft is the version that will likely reach the Senate floor, after facing some amendments from other Senate Foreign Relations Committee members. That floor debate is not expected until after the November elections.
The document, which will be voted on Thursday morning by the committee, represents the culmination of over a week of negotiations between Senate Foreign Relations committee staff, various GOP Senate offices, and the Obama administration. As we reported earlier today, several GOP committee members have pledged to sign on to the Lugar resolution, as opposed to a previous version circulated by committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA).
The latest Lugar version has only minor modifications from a version he circulated last Friday also published on The Cable. In an exclusive interview with The Cable Tuesday, Lugar said he was confident his resolution would be approved by the committee and that he had commitments from numerous GOP senators. He added that the Obama administration was on board as well.
"The administration has been very enthusiastic about our efforts," Lugar said, adding that he spoke with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the negotiations.
His resolution addresses several, but not all, of the concerns various Republican senate offices had about the START treaty. Regarding one main concern, the modernization of the nuclear complex, Lugar's staff added language that seeks to assure senators that there will be some mechanism if the administration's 10-year modernization plan doesn't go as scheduled.
"Essentially it says there would be consideration of withdrawal [from the treaty] if our modernization effort is not effective," Lugar said.
Administration officials who spoke with reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon said they supported the committee's process but needed a resolution that doesn't change the treaty so much that the Russians might object.
"It's very important that we have a clean resolution so we have no ramifications for how the Russians manage their own ratification process," said Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher.
Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said the administration was sensitive to the fact that the Senate might not be able to ratify the treaty immediately.
"We understand that the Senate has to act according to its own timeline," he said.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said today that there's not enough time to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty before the elections, but there should be a chance to pass the treaty when the Senate returns to Washington in November.
"I think the reality is... to push it in the next week or two would be a mistake, given the election. So let's just get it out of committee and hopefully set it up to do without any politics, without any election atmospherics, as a matter of national security when we come back in the lame-duck," Kerry said in an interview Tuesday. "That's what I'd like to see."
Kerry's comments match those of his GOP counterpart Richard Lugar (R-IN), who said Monday evening that he doesn't see any way the treaty could get the needed floor time before the Senate adjourns again in the beginning of October.
But his comments seem to contradict those of the treaty's lead negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, who said Tuesday morning that she still hoped the full Senate would act on the treaty in the next few weeks. The treaty goes into effect 60 days after both Russia and the United States ratify it, and the goal is to have it in effect by the end of the year, Gottemeoller told a group of defense reporters.
Regardless, few on Capitol Hill believe that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will spend precious floor time this month on the treaty. Even after the Senate returns following the November mid-term elections, there still might not be enough time to consider START, Kerry warned.
"If the lame duck session is a one week session, I would be surprised if anything but the most simplistic things pass. If there's a longer lame duck session, it's possible something larger and more sweeping could pass," he said.
Kerry said he needs only two days of Senate floor time, maybe three, to debate and then vote on the treaty.
He also said that he was open to supporting the resolution to be put forth by Lugar at Thursday's committee hearing, rather than the version he circulated early last week.
"Mine was put out as a discussion draft to elicit from them exactly the things that are not being talked about," Kerry said about his draft, which was first posted on The Cable. "We're working very closely together, but I'm certainly prepared to agree to a substitute [from Lugar] if it meets with our needs as well."
There was a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity going on Tuesday regarding the START treaty. Late Monday, Lugar circulated his latest draft, obtained by The Cable, as negotiations continued between the committee staff, various Senate offices, and the administration.
Treaty supporters are hoping to get as many GOP committee votes as possible and have been working hard to address the concerns of Republican senator who will vote on Thursday.
One of those GOP senators is Bob Corker (R-TN), who said Tuesday he will cosponsor the Lugar resolution on Thursday and vote in favor of the treaty at Thursday's committee session.
"I think we're moving in a very good direction," Corker told The Cable. "Based on what I know now, I certainly plan on voting it out of committee."
He predicted that when the treaty reaches the Senate floor, there will be other amendments and reservations put forth, so no final prediction could be made. But Corker said he was cautiously optimistic about the path forward.
Kerry said that when the treaty does reach the floor, senators should keep in mind that the Russian Duma is waiting to see what the Senate does before it acts on the treaty.
"President Medvedev said this to me personally, the Duma is waiting to see what happens here and how the treaty is treated in the United States," Kerry said. "That will have an impact on what they do just as their actions would have an impact on us. So I think we need to be sensitive to that."
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
As the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia finally comes to a committee vote this Thursday, the focus is shifting from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who has been quarterbacking the Senate ratification process, to his Republican counterpart Richard Lugar (R-IN), who is attempting to negotiate a compromise between the Obama administration and Senate Republicans.
Last week, Kerry circulated his resolution of ratification for the New START treaty, published exclusively by The Cable. Kerry's version was subsequently panned by Republicans for not addressing several of their concerns.
But when it comes time to vote, senators will likely be working off a new resolution being crafted this week by Lugar. That's because Lugar's version, a draft of which was also obtained exclusively by The Cable, has much more chance of getting GOP committee members' support.
In remarks at George Washington University on Monday night, Lugar said that he was working with Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as with the administration, to refine his resolution. He also predicted that his draft would be the one to reach the Senate floor.
"I believe that John Kerry will support that," Lugar told the audience, explaining that he was trying to address concerns from both sides of the aisle. The administration held a long negotiating session with Lugar's staff on Monday in an attempt to reach mutually acceptable language.
Even with Lugar still tweaking his resolution, multiple GOP Senate offices told The Cable Monday that they far prefer Lugar's first draft over Kerry's version.
"Lugar's draft does a decent job of addressing about 80 percent of the issues that can be addressed," said one GOP senate aide working on the issue. "Some issues can't be addressed because you can't amend the treaty."
Specifically, Lugar's version includes new or expanded sections addressing several issues of concern for GOP senators, including the sharing of missile telemetry data with the Russians, U.S. plans to develop global strike capabilities, the treaty's potential impact on missile defense, and the powers of the bilateral commission that will oversee treaty implementation.
GOP aides also noted that Lugar's resolution is more comprehensive (22 pages to Kerry's 6) and is written in legislative style, which makes it much easier to amend as it makes its way through the Senate.
And there will be plenty of amendments. Lugar himself is circulating an updated version Tuesday and various Senate offices are preparing language they hope to add when the committee meets Thursday morning.
Kerry's office maintains that having two competing versions of the resolution is just part of the process, a position supported by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher. But multiple State and Hill sources said that the lack of agreement between Kerry and Lugar was a problem in the negotiations over the resolution language. They pointed out that, though it's not fair to say there's a rift between the two, a joint resolution would have shown unity and cooperation on the issue.
The scenario during the committee meeting is likely to play out as follows: Kerry will introduce his resolution and Lugar will introduce his version as a "substitute amendment." If Lugar's amendment is passed, which is likely, then various other senators will try to issue amendments to it. In the end, some form of a START ratification resolution is likely to pass, either with one GOP vote (Lugar's) or two or three more, at most.
After that, the administration will be pushing to get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to schedule floor time to debate and vote on the resolution, which needs 67 votes to pass, before the next Congressional recess. Administration officials still hold out hope that is possible.
"I hope to actually get a vote on the floor in the next couple of weeks," Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller said Monday at Georgetown University. "People are wrestling very actively with this issue. This is a new Congressional season but there's actually very little time before they break before the elections."
A Senate leadership aide told The Cable that START was on a list of items for possible consideration before the Congressional recess. "We have many important items to consider and we will need Republican cooperation to do so," the aide said.
In his remarks at George Washington University, Lugar also sounded a pessimistic note on getting the treaty a full vote on the Senate floor before the November midterm elections. He blamed the delay on the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in Congress.
"This is not a happy time in terms of people accomodating each other," he said.
One senior GOP Senate aide close to the issue was also skeptical. He predicted the treaty debate would be pushed to November or even next year.
"Are they drunk? Why would Harry Reid spend any floor time on this, it's just not going to help any Democrat get elected."
The South Korea government on Monday released the full version of its investigation into the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, which it hopes will offer conclusive proof to a skeptical Russia that the explosion that killed 46 sailors was due to a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine.
The South Korean report (PDF), obtained by The Cable¸ is meant to put to rest the Russian argument that the Cheonan somehow ran aground in shallow waters and triggered a mine explosion, leading to its sinking. That's the version of events reportedly contained in a Russian report that has never been publicly released.
"ROKS Cheonan was sunk due to an under-water explosion caused by an attack of a CHT-02D torpedo manufactured and used by North Korea," concluded the South Korean report. "The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation."
The joint civilian-military commission that compiled the report included input from 73 experts from 4 different nations, including the United States. Despite its comprehensive nature, its findings were not enough to convince the U.N. Security Council to issue a Presidential Statement explicitly blaming North Korea.
The U.N. statement acknowledged that the South Korean investigation accused North Korea of being behind the attack, and then "takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."
South Korea's full report attempted to quell any dispute by showing, among other evidence, that the investigators found parts of the North Korean torpedo (pictured above) and parts of the explosive device that ultimately sunk the ship.
"The finding of the propulsion motor of a torpedo (the smoking gun) and the detection of explosive components illustrated to the North and the international community that even the most covert of attacks will leave evidence behind," the report stated. "Most importantly, all this entails a solemn warning to the North not to engage in further military provocations. This report is a pledge that the Republic of Korea will reflect upon this incident and not let the North exercise further military provocations."
Meanwhile, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, Special Envoy Sung Kim, and NSC Asia Director Danny Russel were in Seoul Monday for discussions on North Korea, and will continue on to Tokyo and Beijing later this week. They met with Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek, acting Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Wi Sung-lac, and National Security Advisor Kim Sung-hwan.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the State Department is "looking to see how - through bilateral contacts and multilateral contacts we can advance towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Next week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is slated to finally vote on a resolution to ratify the new START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia, amid growing concern that time is running out for the full Senate to consider the treaty this year.
Top Obama administration officials are working hard behind the scenes to convince GOP senators to get off the fence and announce their support for new START. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is going to be hard pressed to find precious floor time for the treaty before the Senate goes home for its recess before the midterm elections. What might happen after the elections is anyone's guess. The treaty could be considered during the lame-duck session or be postponed until next year, but a more GOP-heavy Senate could change the calculus for getting to the 67 vote threshold needed for ratification.
Supporters of the treaty have been increasingly frustrated about the persistent delays. They blame Senate Republicans, who have been discussing a whole host of concerns they have over the treaty and withholding any commitment to support the pact. The GOP blames the Obama administration for what it sees as the shortcomings of the agreement and its refusal to share the full negotiating record with the Senate.
Regardless, top administration officials involved in the treaty said Friday that the administration had done pretty much all it can to appease Senate Republicans.
"This administration has provided the Senate with more information than is even necessary to make an informed decision," said Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher. "There's been very robust outreach, every question has been answered, and it's time to take the vote."
Tauscher alluded to the growing fear among New START supporters that the GOP reluctance to support the treaty is based in their reluctance to give Obama a foreign policy victory before the election.
"As an American citizen I will say that the American people are clearly frustrated and frankly fed up with the kind of partisanship they see on many issues, and they certainly become disheartened and frightened when they see it on national security, where for decades we've had an agreement that these were issues that were too important and had too much to do with the safety and security of the American people to be caught up in a partisan debate," she said.
Tauscher did not shed any light on the administration's understanding of the treaty's schedule following the committee's planned Sept. 16 vote. Earlier this week, The Cable reported that chairman John Kerry's draft resolution on ratification was facing internal criticism and had failed to win the support of ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN). Lugar is expected to circulate his own version on Monday.
Tauscher referred indirectly to this development, saying that it was not unusual to have two different resolutions brought to a committee vote. However, State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that it's at least somewhat unusual and definitely less desirable, from the perspective of the administration, than having only one resolution on which to vote.
Since the old START treaty expired last December, there has been no verification of Russian nuclear activities and no process to work with Russia on areas of mutual concern - a fact that Tauscher focused on in making her case for the necessity of ratifying the new treaty quickly.
"The urgency to verify the treaty is because we currently lack verification measures with Russia," she said. "The longer that goes on, the more opportunity there is for misunderstanding and mistrust."
She also said that the administration's proposal for huge increases in the budget for the nuclear complex and modernization of the nuclear stockpile, which was put forth in the fiscal 2011 budget request, is its final offer -- even though some Senate Republicans have called for larger increases.
"We've shown our hand, we've proposed our budget, it's a 13 percent increase," she said. "Any question about the commitment to modernization is just not a question."
She also took a gentle shot at those pushing for more money for the nuclear weapons complex, pointing out that their insistence for more funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration wasn't evident before they decided to raise concerns about the START treaty. This feeds into the increasingly public sentiment among administration officials that senators are using the nuclear funding issue as just one more reason to delay a vote on new START.
"I was pretty lonely fighting for money for the NNSA and for the weapons complex before I left Congress for the administration," she said.
The South Korean government announced a series of sanctions against Iran on Tuesday after intensive lobbying from the Obama administration.
The new measures, which target Iran's energy and banking sectors as well as specific Iranian bad actors, follow similar moves by Japan last week. They are also in line with measures imposed by the European Union last month, though not quite as extensive as the administration had proposed to Seoul.
Regardless, the administration and members of Congress who are pushing for countries to put more pressure on Iran hailed the announcement, noting that South Korea moved forward despite the potential cost to its domestic industries.
"I know that this was not an easy or cost-free decision for the ROK government, either politically or economically. But it is precisely Seoul's willingness to shoulder rather than shirk its international responsibilities that confirms the Republic of Korea's emergence as a global leader," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, in a statement.
Japan has the third largest economy in the world, South Korea ranks as the eleventh largest, and both countries have major business interests in Iran -- especially in the energy sector. The new measures would prevent the initiation of any new joint business ventures but allow existing projects to continue.
For the administration and its allies in Congress, the South Korean and Japanese sanctions announcements reaffirm their strategy of using the U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran, which was passed on June 9, as a framework for taking additional steps aimed at convincing Iran to address the international community's concerns about its nuclear program.
The coordination is a positive sign of cooperation between Washington and its two most important East Asian allies. At the same time, Iran watchers note that Beijing stands to profit if Chinese companies move to fill the demand gap created by the South Korean and Japanese sanctions.
Lieberman is warning that if Beijing undermines the new sanctions, Congress will move to enforce sanctions against Chinese companies using authorities provided in the recent U.S. sanctions legislation.
"Chinese companies have unfortunately in the past been allowed by their government to pursue their commercial self-interest in Iran, exploiting the restraint of other countries," Lieberman said. "If this trend continues, China will isolate itself from the responsible international community in Asia and around the world."
Behind the scenes, State Department and Treasury officials had been working hard to encourage the South Korean and Japanese governments to adoptthe strongest measures possible. This effort has been led by Stuart Levey, the under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, and Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control.
Einhorn and the NSC's Daniel Glaser traveled to Tokyo and Seoul last month, and a Congressional staff delegation visiting Seoul and Tokyo last week also was partially focused on the push for strong sanctions language.
National Economic Council chairman Larry Summers, the NSC's Tom Donilon, Asia Senior Director Jeffrey Bader, and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell were in Beijing last weekend and the topic of Iran sanctions was also on their agenda.
The main hub of Iranian financial activity in South Korea is the Seoul branch of Bank Mellat, a Tehran-based bank that has already been targeted by both the United States and the European Union. South Korea only agreed to a 60-day suspension of Korean dealings with Bank Mellat Seoul, with a promise to reevaluate after. Washington had wanted a total freeze.
Iran watchers on Capitol Hill said the temporary suspension would have the desired effect by making it clear to investors they should not do business with Bank Mellat in Seoul.
"The fact is they are taking action against Bank Mellat and they are embedding this action within a broad framework of other actions," said one GOP Senate aide. "It's very possible that everybody and their brother is going to run for the exits... that bank is going to be kryptonite."
Levey and Einhorn have also been working hard on the recently announced new U.S. sanctions on North Korea, a topic in which both Japan and South Korea have a vital interest. Aides said that, while the two efforts weren't directly linked, there are indirect links in that Iran and North Korea are involved in some of the same illicit activities.
"There is a tie in the sense that North Korea and Iran actively cooperate on a range of illicit proliferation-related activities," said one Congressional staffer close to the issue. "That's a linkage that both the Koreans and the Japanese recognize and appreciate."
UPDATE: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also praised the new sanctions and saw them as a message to China. He tweeted, "Korea adopted strong new sanctions on Iran today. Japan did the same last week. China should follow their good example of global leadership."
The initial draft resolution to ratify the new START nuclear reductions treaty circulated by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry is already facing widespread Republican criticism. Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's ranking Republican, is moving quickly to address complaints about the resolution and suggest compromise language that could win some Republican support for the treaty.
The Cable obtained a copy of Kerry's draft resolution (PDF), which he circulated on Sept. 3 to all committee members without Lugar's explicit endorsement. Lugar, who is the key Republican leader spearheading the drive to ratify the treaty, will submit a substitute resolution at the committee's Sept. 16 meeting that includes several changes to Kerry's language, in the hope of securing the votes of additional GOP senators he believes would oppose Kerry's version.
Multiple GOP Senate aides close to the issue told The Cable they found the Kerry language unacceptable on a number of issues, including how it dealt with missile defense, tactical nuclear weapons, counting rules for warheads, and the sharing of telemetry data. "There are a lot of concerns raised that the Kerry draft didn't answer," one senior GOP aide said.
Kerry's staff told The Cable that his draft is meant to be a starting point to negotiations. The letter accompanying the draft invites committee members to put forth their own ideas in advance of the vote. Kerry's office maintains this is the normal procedure for getting a resolution ready.
Kerry and Lugar "are working on a resolution that will engender bipartisan support," said committee spokesman Frederick Jones. "Committee members are continuing to provide input on this resolution and this is an ongoing process. We're in the process of building consensus."
Lugar's office confirmed that the senator will offer a substitute amendment, which he will circulate next Monday. This will be one of several amendments that committee members will put forth. "The Kerry draft was intended to be a framework to get us started," said Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher.
As these negotiations illustrate, Lugar has become the pivotal figure in the START debate. He appears torn between his heartfelt desire to see the treaty enacted and his need to maintain his role as the bridge between Senate Democrats and the Obama administration, and the GOP senators the administration needs to get the 67 ratification votes necessary for the resolution to pass.
Lugar has been sending out letters to various GOP offices asking them for input as to what the treaty resolution would have to include to win their approval. Aides said the top targets for Lugar right now are Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isaacson (R-GA), who remain concerned that the Obama administration has not yet sufficiently assured them that it will commit to robust investment in the modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
After Corker and Isaacson, the hunt for GOP committee votes gets tougher. Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), are solid no votes. The remaining three Republican committee members are seen by Lugar and the administration as more difficult to get.
Lugar continues to project optimism about the treaty, telling C-Span recently he is confident that a "large majority" of Republicans will end up voting in favor of new START. But his increased involvement at this stage may also show frustration with the process. At last month's committee meeting, he openly criticized Kerry's decision to delay the vote and expressed a desire to put members to a decision sooner rather than later.
On the substance of Kerry's draft, aides from multiple GOP Senate offices said it didn't go far enough to meet their concerns on several issues.
Regarding missile defense, for example, the resolution says that the new START treaty "will not impede any missile defense deployments that are currently planned or might be required during the life of the Treaty, and it is therefore fully consistent with United States policy as established by the National Missile Defense Act of 1999."
Regarding Russia's threat to withdraw from the treaty if U.S. missile defense advancements upset the strategic balance between the two countries, the resolution says, "The unilateral statement issued by the Russian Federation on missile defense does not impose a legal obligation on the United States and will have no practical impact."
Some GOP offices are calling for more aggressive language, such as a pledge not to include missile defense as part of the agenda of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) being set up between the United States and Russia to discuss details of treaty implementation.
Regardless, it seems now that Lugar's amendment will be the center of gravity in the negotiations over the resolutions language, because it has the best chance of getting GOP committee votes.
"They want some Republicans other than Lugar," one GOP aide said, referring to Kerry and the administration. "So, the resolution Lugar writes has to be good enough to get at least Corker."
After the committee approves the resolution, it goes to the full Senate, where Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), is the leader many Republicans will be looking to for guidance. Kyl and Lugar haven't always seen eye to eye on the treaty, but Kyl has been in close consultation with Vice President Joseph Biden on the issue, calling and meeting with him while denying strenuously that he is "negotiating" specific items with the administration.
Whether Kyl can be convinced to support the treaty and whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will allot precious floor time in September to debate it are the looming and unanswerable questions hanging over the treaty following next week's committee vote.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting to vote on the START treaty resolution will be held on Thursday, Sept. 16 at 9:30 AM in the Capitol building.
Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
The Obama administration on Monday announced a limited expansion of the list of entities that fall under U.S. sanctions on North Korea, as well as new sanctions designed to curtail the illicit activities of Kim Jong Il's regime and keep luxury goods out of the hands of the Hermit Kingdom's elite.
The new measures are a response to the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan as well as other recent provocations attributed to Pyongyang. Although the new measures specify just eight organizations and four individuals in North Korea, there are also new authorities the administration could use later to target other businesses and persons who aid the country's nuclear program and its involvement in arms proliferation, currency counterfeiting, money laundering, and illicit drugs.
"North Korea's government helps maintain its authority by placating privileged elites with money and perks, such as luxury goods like jewelry, luxury cars, and yachts," said Stuart Levey, the under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a briefing with reporters at the Treasury Department Monday.
"The North Korean government also benefits from illicit activities including drug trafficking, counterfeiting U.S. currency, and selling counterfeit cigarettes. All of this activity makes up a crucial portion of the North Korean government's revenues. These activities are carried out by a global financial network that generates this income and procures the luxury goods for the government of North Korea."
President Obama added five organizations and three individuals to the list of targets under Executive Order 13382, which only covers those who are helping North Korea obtain weapons of mass destruction. The president also issued a new executive order that covers the regime's other illicit activities and named three organizations and one individual as targets.
One of the organizations targeted in the new executive order is the ultra secretive "Office 39" of the Korean Worker's Party, which allegedly produces methamphetamines, tries to procure yachts for North Korean elites, and uses Banco Delta Asia to launder its proceeds, according to the U.S. administration. In 2005, the Bush administration used the Patriot Act to single out BDA as a major money-laundering concern.
But there are no companies or persons targeted in today's announcement from any country outside North Korea, as had been advocated internally by ally South Korea, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Levey said the new rules will allow the president to add such entities to the list down the line, if warranted.
Asia experts welcomed the new measures as a small but constructive step in the right direction. They said that even though the measures have little chance of changing North Korea's behavior, by targeting the worst actors, some progress can be made.
"I think the administration has got this right," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia security program at the Center for a New American Security, who said that naming companies from countries like China would have only invited trouble.
"They want to maximize the potential to put pressure on North Korea and at the same time not unnecessarily damage the rest of your interests. Smart sanctions here means getting specific with the entities that are doing the dirty dealing," he said.
Moreover, designating these entities as targets places them as a higher priority for intelligence gathering, which has its own intrinsic benefit, Cronin said. "Sanctions don't have to ‘work' to be useful,".
Weston Konishi, associate director of Asia-Pacific studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, said that there have been so many rounds of sanctions against North Korea that there's not much added benefit to additional measures.
"I don't think they are going to fundamentally alter the equation here," he said, adding that the move was symbolically important to show solidarity with South Korea.
In addition to various U.S. unilateral sanctions, North Korea is also sanctioned by the United Nations, chiefly under U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which seek to curtail North Korea's nuclear development and weapons proliferation, respectively.
Robert Einhorn, the State Departments special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control, said Monday that the administration's overall policy toward North Korea has not changed. The administration is still interested in engaging North Korea, but only if Pyongyang affirms its commitment to denuclearization and abides by its previously signed agreements.
"We're not prepared to reward North Korea simply for returning to the negotiating table, including by removing or reducing sanctions," said Einhorn. "We're not interested in talks for talks' sake."The timing of the announcement had nothing to do with the trip to North Korea by former President Jimmy Carter, who returned from Pyongyang last weekend with pardoned prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes, Einhorn said.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter landed in North Korea Wednesday, culminating months of closely held discussions about whether and how to send a high-level political figure on a mission to free an American who has been imprisoned in the cloistered East Asian country since January.
The Carter trip, which the Obama administration maintains is a "private, humanitarian mission" with no official U.S. government involvement, was organized with extensive participation by top officials at both the State Department and the National Security Council, according to regional experts and former officials who were also involved in the discussions.
Two other potential envoys, Bill Richardson and John Kerry, lobbied fiercely to get the assignment, several Asia hands and former officials said, but Carter was ultimately chosen because the administration believed he was best positioned to succeed.
"Nobody else could say for sure that they could get this guy out," one Asia hand who was briefed on the trip said. The imprisoned American, an English teacher named Aijalon Mahli Gomes, was sentenced to 8 years' hard labor in April.
Carter also offers the administration a degree of plausible deniability, allowing the United States to claim the trip is not related to U.S. policy toward North Korea.
"Sending a current US official might be misinterpreted as hinting at a change in policy, it is explained...and if Kerry, or some other serving official, including Special Envoy Steve Bosworth, was sent over, anything they might say could be interpreted (or mis-interpreted) as a commitment of some sort," Asia expert Chris Nelson wrote Tuesday in his Nelson Report newsletter.Carter would also be better received by the North Koreans, the Asia hand said, because as a former president, they hold him in higher regard than a governor or senator. Therefore, he could meet directly with Kim Jong Il, whereas Richardson or Kerry might be relegated to meeting with a lower-level official.
"It's amazing how little the North Koreans understand Washington," the Asia hand said, pointing out that, compared with Kerry or even Richardson, Carter probably has the least influence on the Obama administration.
Another former official close to the discussions had a slightly different take, arguing that the North Koreans understand Washington better than most give them credit for and that Carter's meeting with Kim represents the best hope for diplomatic progress given the extremely centralized nature of the North Korean system.
Most direct contact between North Korea and the United States flows through what is known as the "New York channel," which refers to North Korea's delegation at the United Nations. This small band of diplomats performs a number of vital functions between the two countries, which have no formal diplomatic relations: They plan most visits to Pyongyang by U.S. officials, pass messages back and forth, and even share secrets about other countries, such as China.
Carter, Richardson, and Kerry each have their own independent and well-established links to the New York channel and were working them hard in advance of the trip, keeping in touch with the White House during the entire process.
Richardson in particular had been talking with the North Koreans for at least two months about making the trip but was ultimately told not to go by National Security Advisor Jim Jones, according to one former official's account. Richardson's discussions were so advanced that the North Korean government had even given him some demands they argued were necessary to secure Gomes's release, such as an official apology for Gomes' "crime."
A spokesman for the National Security Council declined to comment. Richardson's office did not respond to requests.
Meanwhile, Kerry had been angling to go to North Korea for some time. Multiple sources report that Kerry has been working on getting a visa to visit Pyongyang for more than a year and was disappointed when Bill Clinton was chosen to rescue Current TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were detained by North Korean soldiers in March 2009 and ultimately released.
The Gomes case was personal for Kerry. Not only is Gomes, who is originally from Boston, his constituent, Kerry has been working hard on the case for months and first approached the State Department on behalf of Gomes's mother. "Senator Kerry has offered to do whatever he can to assist in securing the release of Mr. Gomes," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee spokesman Frederick Jones, who added that any trips to Pyongyang would be closely coordinated with the State Department and the White House.
There are also signs that the State Department is still involved in the trip, despite its official position that it is a private undertaking. For example, department spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to deny that a State Department translator is present on the trip. He has said that no U.S. "officials" would be involved, but a translator, usually a contract employee, could potentially fall outside of that description.
Meanwhile, more details are emerging about last week's high-level meeting on the Obama administration's North Korea policy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in attendance and the meeting was led jointly by Policy Planning chief Anne Marie Slaughter and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.
Crowley described the meeting as one of the regular sessions periodically held at State to examine alternate policy approaches. However, according to two attendees who spoke with The Cable afterwards, there was definitely a sense that Clinton was looking for suggestions of possible changes to the policy. The current U.S. stance avoids direct engagement with Pyongyang until the regime alters its position and commits once again to denuclearization and the six-party talks over its nuclear program.
"[The Clinton people] are uncomfortable having no contact with North Korea; they are worried about potential escalation and that North Korea will get ornery and want to escalate further if we're not talking to them," said one attendee.
Another attendee had a slightly different readout, saying that Clinton is not opposed to the current policy but just wants to prepare options going forward."I think everyone there clearly felt that what has been done so far [by the Obama administration] was the right thing to do, but people were trying to look ahead," this attendee said. "They didn't think doing more of the same is necessarily the right course of action."
The attendees spanned the ideological spectrum of North Korea hands. Experts in the room included the American Enterprise Institute's Nicholas Eberstadt, former NSC senior director Mike Green, former NSC senior director Victor Cha, the Stimson Center's Alan Romberg, former North Korea intelligence official Robert Carlin, Stanford's Siegfried Hecker, humanitarian Stephen Linton, and former nuclear negotiator Joel Wit.
Sources familiar with the thinking of officials like Campbell and NSC senior director Jeffrey Bader say they are not opposed in principle to talking to the North Koreans, but are determined not to reward Pyongyang for its recent bad behavior, which includes the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan and suspected widespread weapons proliferation to Burma. Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg is said to favor this approach as well.
Other actors such as Bosworth and Amb. Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks, are said to favor a more forward approach, not seeing dialogue as a reward and placing more of an emphasis on getting back to the table.
Whatever happens with Carter's trip, experts say, the administration should take care to make sure no gaps emerge between its diplomacy and the position of its ally, South Korea. Seeming to make overtures to the North could cause problems for the South Korean government, which has been in lockstep with the Obama administration's tougher approach. The South Koreans, unlike most in Washington, were briefed ahead of the Carter trip, a signal that the Obama team has internalized the importance of keeping them in the loop.
But the administration took a risk in sending Carter, a man who has developed a reputation for freelancing on such assignments.
"By putting it in Carter's hands they are running a risk that he could get out ahead of the South Koreans' position," one Asia hand warned.
Yao Ximeng/Xinhua/Associated Press
Jimmy Carter is set to travel to North Korea very soon, according to two sources familiar with the former president's plans, in what they characterized as a private mission to free a U.S. citizen imprisoned there.
Carter has decided to make the trip and is slated to leave for the Hermit Kingdom within days, possibly bringing his wife and daughter along for the journey. His goal is to bring back Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 30-year-old man from Boston who was sentenced to 8 years in prison in April, about three months after he was arrested crossing into North Korea via China. In July, North Korea's official media organ reported that Gomes had tried to commit suicide. Earlier this month, the State Department secretly sent a four-man team to Pyongyang to visit Gomes, but was unable to secure his release.
There will be no U.S. government officials on the trip and Carter is traveling in his capacity as a private citizen, our sources report -- much like when former President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang last August to bring home Current TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had wandered across the North Korean border with China and were promptly arrested and threatened with years of hard labor.
A senior administration official would not confirm that Carter has decided to go but told The Cable, "If anyone goes it would be a private humanitarian effort." Carter's office did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
The Obama administration wants desperately to avoid conflating the Carter trip with its current stance toward North Korea, which is to engage Kim Jong Il's regime only if and when North Korea agrees to abide by its previous commitments and agrees to return to the six-party talks over its nuclear program, which Pyongyang abandoned in 2008.
Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, had offered to go to pick up Gomes and has been working on the case for months, but our sources report Carter was selected because he is not a serving U.S. official. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had also been considered, but it's not clear why he was not chosen.
Carter has personal experience dealing with North Korea. In a dramatic and controversial June 1994 trip, after North Korea threatened to reprocess its spent nuclear fuel and the Clinton administration called for U.N. sanctions, the former president flew to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Il's father, Kim Il Sung, and successfully persuaded him to negotiate.
This time, leading Korea experts say, Carter's trip should not be seen as a change in U.S. policy toward Pyongyang and will likely not yield any breakthrough in what most see as a diplomatic stalemate between the two sides.
"Obviously, State and the White House had to be involved in the planning of this. But if you're going to try to pitch this as a foreshadowing of a new diplomatic engagement or a breakthrough, it's certainly not going to be that," said L. Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mansfield Foundation, a think tank Focused on Northeast Asia.
When Clinton flew to Pyongyang to free the two Current TV reporters, who received a "special pardon" from the Dear Leader, he was extremely careful not to wade into policy matters.
"I don't anticipate that in any way President Carter will be carrying water for Obama or for any change in policy toward North Korea, because what is required for North Korea to move forward in negotiations with the United States is clear," said Flake.
But although Carter doesn't have official sanctioning to wade into North Korea policymaking, he might just do it anyway. Carter is known for having an independent streak, boldly taking on foreign-policy issues whether invited to do so or not.
Many former officials reference Carter's last trip to North Korea as evidence of this phenomenon. According to several officials who were involved in the policy at that time, Carter's deal with Kim Il Sung went beyond what the Clinton administration had authorized.
After the elder Kim's death the following month, the United States and North Korea entered talks in earnest, resulting in the 1994 Agreed Framework, which represents the most comprehensive cooperation between North Korea and the West to this day.
"As a result of his going slightly off the reservation, we got back to productive negotiations and before long negotiated the most effective agreement we've ever had with the North Koreans," said former ambassador Thomas Hubbard, who was then deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and deputy to the lead negotiator for the Agreed Framework, Robert Gallucci.
"You can't expect President Carter to take orders and do things the way the president wants it done, but to my mind it's a risk worth taking," Hubbard said. (Clinton himself later told former Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell, "I took a chance on him in North Korea, and that didn't turn out too badly," according to an account by the late David Halberstam.)
Not everyone remembers Carter's trip so fondly. Some Clinton administration officials were furious with Carter at the time for coloring outside the lines, and saw him as being deliberately roguish, considering that he brought a CNN camera crew with him and announced his deal before the Clintonites could object. The Clinton White House decided to take his ball and run with it after the fact.
"There are a lot of memories of Jimmy Carter's last trip to North Korea and a lot of people kind of thought he hijacked our diplomacy," said Joel Wit, a former U.S. nuclear negotiator who is now a visiting fellow at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies and the founder of its website about North Korea, 38 North. "The bottom line is he did a good thing and the work he did there helped to pave the way to get the Agreed Framework."
Some experts argue that sending Carter is a bad idea that will only encourage further bad behavior on the part of Pyongyang.
"Sending another ex-president establishes a very bad precedent," said Amb. Charles "Jack" Pritchard, who served as special envoy to North Korea during the George W. Bush administration. "Mr. Carter has a history, an understanding, and a point-of-view where I can't imagine he would not, on his own, engage the North Koreans on substantive issues more than just the return of Mr. Gomes."
"If that's what they want," he said, referring to the Obama administration, "then he's a very appropriate choice."
Obama's tough posture toward Pyongyang, which includes as yet unspecified new financial sanctions and repeated military exercises with U.S. ally South Korea -- all of which are meant to show solidarity and strength after North Korea sunk the South Korea ship the Cheonan -- could be compromised, said Pritchard.
"It sends a signal, whether intended or not, that the United States is trying to get past the Cheonan incident, with the potential that we would be slightly out of step with the South Koreans," Pritchard said.
That's not a universally held view among former Bush administration officials, however.
"In the end, if the priority is to get the American out and that is what's required, then it's worth it, you've got to do it," said Victor Cha, Asia director for the National Security Council during the late Bush era. "If Carter can be helpful in getting some diplomatic dialogue going, that's fine. I hope he doesn't have some package to pull out of his pocket; that wouldn't be helpful."
Yet there are already signs that the Obama team's decision to essentially forgo direct engagement for the time being while concentrating on pressure and coordination with allies is fraying at the top levels.
We're told that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is said to be frustrated with the policy, had her Policy Planning chief Anne Marie Slaughter convene a high-level meeting at the State Department earlier this month to examine fresh options.
No matter what Carter does or how the North Koreans respond, the debate in Washington is likely to ramp up due to this trip, said Wit.
"The minute you send Jimmy Carter to North Korea, you've got to believe the pot is going to be stirred."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is confident the Senate will President Obama's strategic nuclear treaty with Russia shortly after the August congressional recess, she said Wednesday morning.
Following a meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, she said the administration had reassured skeptical senators about their concerns over what the treaty means for missile defense, investment in "nuclear modernization," and verification.
"This treaty in no way will constrain our ability to modernize our nuclear enterprise or develop and deploy the most effective missile defenses for the sake of our security and for our allies and friends," she said.
She also touted the administration's $80 billion proposal for modernizing the nuclear weapons complex, a huge increase in such funding but short of what some GOP senators are calling for.
Clinton took a page from the book of committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, who said last week that the quick ratification of the treaty, known as New START, is a national-security imperative because all monitoring of Russian nuclear activities stopped when the last treaty expired last December.
"There is an urgency to ratify this treaty because we currently lack verification measures with Russia, which only hurts our national security interests," she said. "Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia's nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty. As time passes, uncertainty will only increase. Ratifying the New START treaty will prevent that outcome."
Although Clinton said all of the senators' questions were being answered, one sticking point is likely to remain even after the recess ends. Several GOP senators are demanding the administration give them the entire negotiating record for New START. The administration has provided a summary, but has indicated several times that it has no intention of handing over the full record.
The administration argues that even though negotiating records have been provided in the past in certain cases, doing so hurts their ability to hold private negotiations with foreign governments in the future.
"It is surprising to see so many former senators in an administration who believe the Senate is a rubber stamp," one senior GOP aide told The Cable. "Until the administration sends up the negotiating record, it is clear that we have not yet reached the end of the beginning of this process."
Kerry has promised a committee vote on the treaty will be held Sept. 15 or 16.
Clinton's full remarks after the jump:
With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee having delayed its vote on President Obama's nuclear treaty with Russia until September, the committee's top Republican is warning that time is of the essence.
Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, told committee members at Tuesday's business meeting that even though the committee could have approved the treaty, allowing it to go to the full Senate, he felt it better to take the time to build more consensus before requiring senators to stake out their positions.
But ranking member Richard Lugar, R-IN, warned that if the treaty stalls, it might be hard to build up momentum again. He also said he had argued internally for holding the committee vote this week to allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, to go ahead and reserve precious Senate floor time for treaty consideration in September.
If the committee doesn't vote until September, it's "problematic" to try to get floor time before the next break, Lugar said, meaning that the December "lame duck" post-election session would be where the treaty would get a full Senate debate.
"If not [before the election], then whether it works out in December or not is no longer a matter of parliamentary debate, it's a matter of national security," he said, citing the fact that U.S. inspectors have not been able to verify Russian behavior regarding nuclear weapons deployment since the original START agreement expired late last year. "We ought to vote now and let the chips fall where they may. It's that important."
"The problem of the breakdown of our verification, which lapsed December 5, is very serious and impacts our national security," Lugar said. Members may want to take extra time to consider the treaty, but if they are really concerned about Russian activity, ratifying the treaty is the way to address that, he added.
Kerry implored committee members to take the time over recess to think it over and come back to town ready to vote.
"We currently have no verifiability, no regime in place with Russia," he said. "My hope is that we can do this expeditiously when we come back ... Every senator should be prepared to mark up this resolution of advice and consent on September 15 or 16."
A draft of the resolution will be circulated well before then, Kerry added.
Meanwhile, more fence-sitting senators seem to be signaling that they are getting ready to support New START.
The Cable has been asking every single GOP senator repeatedly to state his or her position on the treaty. Before today, only Lugar and Bob Bennett, R-UT, had indicated support and only James Inhofe, R-OK, and Jim DeMint, R-SC, had said they would oppose it.
Today, The Cable caught up with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, who had previously said he had not come to a conclusion. He now says he is taking steps to prepare for a yes vote.
"I'm waiting for further action on the modernization of the nuclear weapons program," he said, referring to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl's ongoing negotiations with the administration over how much money will be made available for nuclear labs and other items.
Lieberman also said when the treaty does come up, he will put forth side documents called "reservations," which can be attached to the treaty to express congressional concerns while still allowing the treaty to go into effect without any changes.
"I may want to submit some reservations or understandings, which will enable me to vote for the treaty," he said.
The Cable also caught up with Senate Armed Services Committee member Jeff Sessions, R-AL, who wouldn't commit but seemed to be leaning toward a no vote.
Sessions said the treaty is not really important, gives too much to the Russians without getting enough in return, and compromises U.S. missile defense.
"It was pretty obvious to me that the administration team was all obsessed with getting it done and signing this treaty as some sort of psychological political statement to the world, and the Russians played us like a Stradivarius," he said. "I'm not buying the argument that this is necessary."
Sessions is most upset that President Obama laid out a goal of moving to a world without nuclear weapons in the first place. "This is such an unwise and incomprehensible policy that it makes everyone uneasy," Sessions said.
Still, Sessions won't say for sure which way he will go. When asked if he agreed with Lugar that time was running out, he said he doesn't have to state his position until a vote comes up.
"The vote's not today," he pointed out.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has postponed a vote on President Obama's strategic arms treaty with Russia until mid-September, dashing hopes among arms-control advocates that the agreement could be ratified before the fall election season gets into full swing.
Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, informed members Tuesday that the committee would be rescheduling a business meeting set for Wednesday, Aug. 4, in which the SFRC was to consider the treaty, known as New START.
Citing members' requests for more time to review the treaty as well as what he described in a letter as "extensive" background documents provided by the State Department, the intelligence community, and the executive branch, Kerry informed committee members to be ready to vote on the treaty on Sept. 15 or 16 -- and urged them to vote yes.
So far, only one Republican member of the committee, ranking member Richard Lugar of Indiana, has signed on, and at least two -- Jim DeMint of South Carolina and James Inhofe of Oklahoma -- have said they will vote against the treaty.
Kerry likely delayed the business meeting because he isn't confident the treaty would pass a floor vote.
The State Department does not believe that Russia has been cheating on its obligations under START I, the now-defunct 1991 nuclear reductions treaty and is confident that Russia will abide by the new treaty when it is ratified, according to the treaty's top negotiator.
Concerns about Russian behavior were spelled out in two articles Wednesday, both of which referred to a newly submitted State Department report on treaty compliance over the last five years. Both articles asserted that language in the report referring to disputes between the United States and Russia over compliance and verification mechanisms spell danger for New START, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on next week.
But in an exclusive interview with The Cable, State's lead negotiator for New START, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation Rose Gottemoeller, said that nothing in the report accuses Russia of cheating or undermines the Obama administration's confidence that the new treaty can be enforced.
"Cheating implies intent to undermine a treaty. There's no history of cheating on the central obligations of START; there's a history of abiding by the treaty. " Gottemoeller said.
"Generally the record for the major conventions is a good one. With regard to START, the Russians have been very serious and it has been a success."
The Washington Post's version of the story was originally entitled, "Report finds Russians may not be in compliance, could sink new START treaty," a headline that shocked State Department employees. The headline was later changed to "Report findings about Russia could complicate debate on new START pact." The Washington Times' version was entitled, "Russia violated '91 START till end, U.S. report finds," another headline multiple State Department officials said was misleading.
With regard to START I, Gottemoeller said that there were several disputes over compliance issues on both sides, many of which had been resolved over the last two years due to intensive work between the Obama administration and the Russians. Yes, there are some compliance issues that were not resolved, but those covered minor technical issues, she argued, not a deliberate attempt by Russia to circumvent the treaty.
The text of the report (pdf), obtained in advance of its release by The Cable, backs up that assertion.
"The United States raised new compliance issues since the 2005 Report (the most recent one before today)," the document states. "The United States considered several of these to have been closed. A number of the remaining issues highlighted the different interpretations of the parties about how to implement the complex inspection and verification provisions of the START Treaty."
"We think [the compliance report] actually tells a good story about Russia and its willingness to resolve compliance and verification issues and should help ratification," said Gottemoeller, citing a now-resolved dispute over re-entry vehicles as one example of constructive U.S.-Russia dealing over compliance.
The Post's story focuses on the report's criticisms of Russian compliance with two agreements not directly related to START: the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
"It remains unclear," the report states, "whether Russia has fulfilled its BWC obligations." Later on, it reads: "The United States is unable to ascertain whether Russia's CWC declaration is complete... and whether Russia is complying with the CWC-established criteria for destruction and verification of its CW."
On this point, Gottmoeller acknowledged that there are some outstanding questions about what biological and chemical weapons programs were left over from the Soviet Union and said that the Russian government is working with oversight bodies to resolve open questions, but that is not directly related to START.
A State Department official, speaking on background, noted the irony of GOP senators worrying about compliance and verification while stalling on ratification of the new treaty. Since the old START agreement expired last December, all U.S. personnel working to monitor Russian nuclear stockpiles have been removed and until the new treaty is ratified, there isn't any verification at all.
"We need a treaty to comply with," the official said. "Until the new treaty enters into force, we don't know what they are doing."
This official also sought to correct the record about what State sees as another misleading criticism of the department's actions on START -- that the administration believes Russian cheating, if it were discovered, would not be a big deal.
That line of argument stemmed from a recent congressional hearing where Pentagon official James Miller said, "Because the United States will retain a diverse triad of strategic forces, any Russian cheating under the treaty would have little effect on the assured second-strike capabilities of U.S. strategic forces."
The State Department official said that Miller's remark doesn't mean cheating isn't a big concern.
"As far as State is concerned, cheating is any form would be a huge issue... so it absolutely would be something we would take very seriously."
As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gets ready to vote on President Obama's nuclear arms reductions treaty, several Republican senators are now hinting that they will support the agreement and are working toward bipartisan ratification.
The key senator to watch is Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican point man on the treaty. Kyl, who is in talks with the office of Vice President Joseph Biden, isn't saying which way he's leaning -- but his friends say Kyl is getting closer to supporting ratification.
Utah Sen. Bob Bennett told The Cable in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he wants to vote for the treaty, but is holding off until he gets the nod from his leadership.
"I'm waiting for Senator Kyl to finish his analysis, but he's leaning yes and I'm leaning yes," Bennett said.
Contrary to some Republicans who don't believe that reducing nuclear stockpiles is a good idea at all, such as Jim DeMint, R-SC, James Inhofe, R-OK, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Bennett said the treaty is a good idea and even characterized it as a constructive part of President Obama's reset policy with Russia.
"I think it's a step in the right direction and a continuation of the thawing of the relationship between the United States and Russia that goes all the way back to the Ronald Reagan. We're now at the point where this is probably a good idea."
Bennett had a "friendly conversation" with Biden last week. Biden's office has been taking the lead on the issue, using his deputy national security advisor Brian McKeon to coordinate ratification strategy, administration sources said. Kyl had denied to The Cable that he was negotiating with Biden, but a spokesman confirmed that Kyl did meet with Biden but just didn't want to characterize it as "negotiating."
The White House has taken the lead role in Congress although State Department officials did the heavy lifting in negotiating the deal with Russia over the last year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still involved -- she met with another potential GOP vote, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, on the issue this month -- but the strategy is being driven in the Old Executive Office.
"It's a White House priority, so that's the way it is," one administration source relates.
Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, other senior Republican senators are signaling they are getting ready to support ratification.
"Hopefully we can create an environment, after general study, that would permit the Senate to ratify the treaty in a bipartisan way," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, the third-ranking senator in the Republican caucus, told The Cable. "But we're not there yet."
"It will depend primarily on whether we can have an adequate nuclear modernization program going forward," he said. "I'm working very closely with Senator Kyl to make that happen."
Other GOP senators aren't yet showing their cards, and are withholding their support until their particular concerns are addressed.
Sen. John Thune, R-SD, told The Cable that he is waiting for a response to his request for a briefing from the Defense Department about the Pentagon's intentions regarding delivery systems for nuclear weapons. In Thune's eyes, the new treaty doesn't have enough clarity on the mix of bombers, missiles, and submarines that will be used going forward.
Ellsworth Air Force Base in Thune's state would stand to benefit greatly if a new bomber was built.
Thune also expressed the lingering feeling among many Republicans that New START isn't a great deal for the United States.
"I don't disagree with the idea that we ought to try to have some equilibrium between their capabilities and ours, but it seems to me right now that we have made reductions without any sort of comparable type of reductions from the Russians," he said.
The treaty text requires each side to cap its arsenal to 1,500 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles. Thune's contention is that the Russians were already planning to reduce to those levels.
With Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, as a firm yes vote, the committee can approve the treaty whenever it chooses. But Lugar and his chairman, John Kerry, D-MA, don't want to force GOP fence sitters to make a call before they are ready. And Kyl has made clear he won't let the treaty come to the Senate floor until his concerns are addressed.
But time is of the essence for treaty supporters. The Senate leaves for recess next after next week and ratification would have to be fit into a hectic, politically charged session beginning after Labor Day and leading up to the midterm elections. "Senator Kerry is working with his colleagues and the administration to hear views and address questions raised by senators about the new START treaty and related issues as quickly as possible," said committee spokesman Fred Jones.
There's no decisions yet on when to bring up the agreement. "Ultimately, the goal is to build consensus for the timely ratification of this vital treaty," he said.
Now that the congressional supporters of the Tea Party movement have formed their own caucus, their policy positions are becoming easier to track. Expanding their foray into foreign policy, 21 members of the new caucus have now come out explicitly endorsing Israel's right to strike Iran's nuclear program.
Almost two dozen Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers cosponsored a new resolution late last week that expresses their support for Israel "to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force."
The lead sponsor of the resolution was Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, one of four congressmen to announce the formation of the 44-member Tea Party caucus at a press conference on July 21. The other three Tea Party Caucus leaders, Michele Bachmann, R-MN, Steve King, R-IA, and John Culberson, R-TX, are also sponsors of the resolution. In total, 21 Tea Party Caucus members have signed on, according to the latest list of caucus members put out by Bachmann's office.
The resolution cites threats by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to "annihilate" the state of Israel, endorses other means to persuade Iran to stop pursuing nuclear weapons, and states the lawmakers' support for an Israeli military strike "if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time."
"Members of the Tea Party caucus can and do speak for themselves," said Gohmert in an emailed statement, "but most if not all members have strong beliefs that we should not turn on our backs on our best friends and reward those bent on our destruction. This resolution was borne out of concern for the threat, not merely to Israel, but also to the United States."
Notably absent from the resolution -- and indeed, from the Tea Party Caucus -- is Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and 2008 presidential candidate. Paul, who leads the libertarian wing of the Tea Party movement, was one of only 11 members of the House to vote against the recent Iran sanctions bill, which he called "very, very dangerous and not well thought out"; in 2007 he expressed his concern that "a contrived Gulf of Tonkin-type incident may occur to gain popular support for an attack on Iran."
There's little chance the resolution, which has 46 co-sponsors in total, will see a vote on the House floor any time soon. But the resolution signals increasing interest by the Tea Party and its congressional supporters in foreign policy.
Last week, a Tea Party-affiliated grassroots organization launched a nationwide campaign to build popular opposition to the administration's nuclear reductions treaty with Russia, called New START. The group is led by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's wife Ginny and it dovetails with similar efforts by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
The resolution also continues a theme among Tea Party leaders, such as Sarah Palin, who are seeking to separate the movement's domestic policies, which call for small government and fiscal restraint, from libertarian views on foreign policy, promoting instead an aggressive, unilateralist view of world affairs and unchecked military spending.
Read the whole resolution here.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A lobbying group affiliated with the Tea Party has joined the effort to derail President Obama's new arms-control agreement with Russia, launching a grassroots campaign by spreading misleading information about the pact to the general public.
Former governor Mitt Romney kicked off the conservative nationwide campaign to convince ordinary Americans to actively oppose the new nuclear reductions treaty with Russia. He is even trying to raise money off of it. The Heritage Foundation has a new grassroots lobbying arm that has made opposition to New START one of its core activities. Other right-leaning issues organizations are now following suit.
The latest salvo is being launched by a Tea Party-affiliated group called Liberty Central, a 501c4 lobbying organization that has started a letter-writing campaign entitled, "TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators to Oppose START Treaty."
The group dates back to November 2009, and was started by Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the wife of none other than Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. She has also worked for former congressman and leading Tea Party figure Dick Armey, and served as the White House liaison to the Heritage Foundation during the George W. Bush administration.
The group explains its mission as returning the United States to its "Founding Principles," which it describes as "limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty, free enterprise, and national security."
"Today, our society is being remade by the elected leadership in Washington, who wants to take us down the road to a European style social democracy, disconnected from the principles of the Constitution and the ideas and the ideals of our founding fathers," Cain said.
Liberty Central's call to action on New START, written by Director of Policy and General Counsel Sarah Field, lists six major objections to the treaty:
The criticisms omit several relevant facts and get others wrong. For example, although the existing U.S. missile-defense system has its origins under the Reagan administration, it was never intended to stop a Russian missile attack. In any case, New START was never aimed at advancing defensive capabilities, which fall outside the scope of the treaty.
Moreover, there is no section that allows each country to withdraw; rather such language is in the preamble, which does not include the word "threatened."
Nor did President Obama did not give up the U.S. missile-defense presence in Poland and the Czech Republic as "part of the negotiating process"; that decision was made independently of the START talks and was aimed at strengthening the system's ability to thwart the short- and medium-range missile threat from Iran.
The treaty also does not limit the type of circumstances in which the U.S. is allowed to launch weapons. Here, Field might be referring to the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which reduced the scenarios under which the United States would launch a nuclear strike.
None of that prevented Liberty Central from including these assertions in its form letter, which members can send to senators with one click of the mouse.
"The START Treaty fails to ensure the ability of the US to maintain a reliable nuclear deterrent going forward, and severely limits our missile defense systems. I urge you to protect American security by opposing this treaty," the letter states.
"This group is trying to come up with any argument they can and so they came up with several that aren't even relevant to the treaty," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World. "It's even more troubling when we see these same arguments repeated by some GOP senators."
"They say that missile defense doesn't protect us from Russia? Well, it doesn't protect us from cancer either, so what does that prove?"
Multiple attempts to contact Field or Liberty Central garnered no response.
For the first time since 2001, there is real and building momentum to include caps or even reductions in defense spending as part of the bipartisan drive to address the United States' runaway deficits.
Defense spending, which has more than doubled since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, has always been the third rail of congressional funding debates. After Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last year that "the spigot of defense funding opened by 9/11 is closing," there was widespread skepticism in Washington that either party would take up the cause.
Gates is directing all the military services to tighten their belts, and Pentagon sources say that every shop is looking for things it can do without. But as part of Gates's plan to incentivize the military to get rid of waste, he's instituted a policy that services can "keep what they catch," so that initiative won't lower budgets all by itself.
But now, a growing chorus of congressional Democrats, along with a smattering of Republicans, is feeling more confident that 2011 could be the year when actual limits on defense funding, or even cuts to the defense budget, might be imposed.
A watershed moment in this debate came last week, when the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Daniel K. Inouye, D-HI, unveiled spending guidelines for all the Senate subcommittees. His initial guidelines for the defense subcommittee, which he also chairs, limited core defense spending to $522.8 billion, $2.1 billion less than the president's request.
But when Republicans clamored at the hearing for lower overall spending, Inouye later reduced the total allocations by another $6 billion, taking all of that spending authority from defense.
The final guidelines also recommend $157.8 billion in war funding for next year, about $1 billion less than what the administration had asked for.
"It does not need to be said that the nation is at war and faces threats to our security globally. We cannot afford to let down our guard. Nonetheless, I believe we can achieve savings in our Defense Department, which would allow us to curtail defense spending modestly," Inouye said.
Although Inouye's spending levels are less than what Obama requested, the senator would still allow the defense budget to grow by almost $14 billion over last year's level, and he doesn't support a total freeze on defense spending.
But just in case anyone wanted to criticize the reductions he did recommend, he was quick to point out that 56 senators have voted for an amendment by Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, and Claire McCaskill, D-MO, that would have placed a firm cap on defense spending and actually would have cut Obama's fiscal 2011 defense request by $9.5 billion.
Although the Sessions-McCaskill amendment was never enacted, the vote shows that even Republicans are now cautiously wading into the debate over whether defense spending is out of control.
At the same hearing last week, the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, echoed the point made by President Obama and Democratic leaders like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, that the national debt and national security are intimately related.
"The economy is in distress and we need to support programs and investments that will support recovery and growth. The size of our debt poses a direct threat to our national security," Cochran said.
Other Republicans are calling explicitly for cuts to the Pentagon budget itself. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma sent a letter to the president's deficit commission explaining exactly why he thinks defense spending is ripe for cost-cutting. "I appreciate that some of these thoughts are controversial," he wrote, "even to the point that I have some reluctance in suggesting them ... However, if we are to fulfill our mandate, we must make some difficult choices, not just recommend that others do so."
Meanwhile, House Democrats are increasing their activity on the issue. The House Oversight and Government Reform National Security Subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday focused on waste at DoD.
"The critical importance of our national security does not in any way exempt the Defense Department from its obligations to spend money wisely and efficiently," said chairman John Tierney, D-MA.
The witnesses were members of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, which issued a report in June that made recommendations it claims could save $960 billion in defense spending by 2020.
Some leading conservatives, such as former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, still believe and argue passionately that defense spending should not be where the government looks for savings and that defense spending should simply continue to go up and up.
Kori Schake, a top foreign-policy advisor to Palin's running mate, John McCain, during the 2008 campaign, disagrees.
"Conservatives need to hearken back to our Eisenhower heritage, and develop a defense leadership that understands military power is fundamentally premised on the solvency of the American government and the vibrancy of the U.S. economy," said Schake, who is now with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
All told, the Pentagon requested $708 billion for all defense activities, including some nuclear energy activities, the highest level ever. In 2001, that number was $316 billion.
With all of the Senate hearings on President Obama's new nuclear reductions treaty with Russia now completed, the push toward a vote is underway, much to the chagrin of some Republicans. In their effort to delay a vote on the New START treaty, senior GOP senators are now pointing to a House appropriations bill still being formed as the latest reason they can't yet support the treaty.
The House Appropriations Energy and Water subcommittee approved a bill for fiscal 2011 funding that would give $525 million to the nuclear weapons complex for the first year of an ambitious nuclear weapons modernization program, $99 million less than the administration had requested. For overall funding for the nuclear weapons complex, the House panel recommended $6.9 billion, which is 8 percent above what was given for the same activities in fiscal 2010.
That's the largest increase in the history of that account, but regardless, the subcommittee's proposed reductions for the modernization program were enough to provoke major objections from the same Republicans who are seen as key swing votes on New START.
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, opened up today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing by referring to the House's energy bill directly and asking the witnesses if they would recommend that Obama veto the bill if the subcommittee's proposed funding levels carry the day.
"There are already concerns about the adequacy of the president's plan for meeting our full recapitalization and modernization needs, and this lack of commitment by House Democrats to at least meet the president's request is troubling," he said.
The energy bill markup is by no means final. In fact, there's little chance Congress will pass any energy appropriations bill -- it's more likely they will fold it into a larger bill to keep the government running after the fiscal year expires on Sept. 30.
So, is this energy bill funding level issue really a big deal?
"It's a huge deal," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, the unofficial GOP point man on New START, told The Cable in an interview Tuesday. "The modernization program will cost a fair amount of money ... So how are we going to get that money back so the modernization program is not deficient?"
In an interview, Senate Foreign Relations Committee head John Kerry, D-MA, assured The Cable that the modernization account would be fully funded to match the president's request.
"We're working on that now. The president is committed to the full $624 million and that commitment stands," he said.
Regardless, the new dispute is fueling concern inside the administration that Kyl may not really have any intention of supporting the treaty, even if he's given as much as can be given on the modernization front.
Kyl flatly denied he is in negotiations with Vice President Joe Biden or any other administration officials over New START. When asked whether he would vote for the treaty if all his concerns or addressed or if he even supports the overall idea of nuclear reductions, he declined to give a straight answer.
"I don't have to respond to that," he said. "Let me just put it this way, I think the administration will have a lot easier job of getting the START treaty approved if they make sure all the things that members have asked for are provided."
Kyl is still demanding access to the entire negotiating record for the treaty, which the administration has no intention of providing. He's also asking for more time for members to pour over the treaty.
Meanwhile, the administration is pursuing a two-track strategy, working with Kyl in the hopes of convincing him and his cohorts to come along, while also trying to find eight to 10 GOP moderate votes they could get if Kyl ultimately balks.
Those GOP moderates are going to be hard to find. The Cable tracked down GOP Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, Olympia Snowe, R-ME, Judd Gregg, R-NH, and Scott Brown, R-MA, all of whom said they were not ready to give any indication or significant comment on whether they would vote in favor of New START.
Nor is Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, a safe yes vote. In an interview with The Cable, Lieberman said, "I'd like to be in a position to support it." He referred to the verification measures in the treaty, which he and other senators want more clarification on.
As for McCain, he told The Cable on Tuesday that he supported the overall idea of reducing nuclear stockpiles and promised to keep an open mind on the treaty, "as long as we can do it and ensure our safety and security."
"In all of these treaties, the devil in the details and that's what we've got work out," he said.
Roll Call/Getty Images
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that President Obama's strategic arms-control treaty with Russia will be eventually ratified by the Senate, with a smattering of reluctant GOP votes. But what if that doesn't happen?
The possibility of the treaty being rejected or stalled indefinitely is a real one. The center of gravity on the Senate side is around Sens. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and John McCain, R-AZ, neither of whom has revealed yet which way they will vote. Interested but less-involved senators like Bob Corker, R-TN, are likely to follow their lead.
It's been reported that Kyl is in negotiations now, bargaining for concessions, such as more money for nuclear modernization or guarantees that missile defense won't fall victim to the treaty. But in the end, there's no assurance he will vote yes, and the treaty could be voted down or pulled from consideration. That would be a huge setback for U.S. credibility abroad and the Obama administration's entire arms-control agenda, according to experts, former officials, and foreign diplomats.
"If this were to go down, the ripple effect consequences around the world would be the worst possible outcome we've seen since World War II," said former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who currently co-chair's Obama's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. "It would set in motion the disintegration of any confidence in the leadership of the two major nuclear powers to deal with this and it would set in motion a disintegration of any structural boundaries and capacities to deal with this. This would devastating not just for arms control but for security interests worldwide."
While New START is a deal between the U.S. and Russia, which account for approximately 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, its defeat would harm international efforts to later bring other nuclear powers into an arms-control regime, according to former Democratic Senator Gary Hart.
"The two of us have the greatest burden, but sooner or later we want to bring in China and our European allies that have nuclear arsenals and see how far we can go," Hart said. "But it must begin with us and the Russians, and if we turn our back... it's a giant step backward and it would set back our diplomacy, foreign policy, and national security in serious ways."
Meanwhile, European allies are growing frustrated with the slow pace of the Obama administration's arms-control agenda. Several European diplomats have told The Cable they are aware of the difficulties of Senate ratification but nevertheless feel they were given assurances by the administration and are looking to Obama to get it done.
"From the European point of view, nobody can understand why the START treaty has not been ratified," said France's Ambassador to Washington Pierre Vimont, "When we send cables back home saying that START might not be ratified, they ask us ‘What have you been drinking?'"
Arms-control advocates are concerned that the basic agreement that was struck between nuclear and non-nuclear countries in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- that the "have nots" would forgo building nukes if the "haves" promised to move toward eliminating their stockpiles -- is in jeopardy.
Some, like treaty supporter Sen. Richard Lugar, R-IN, argue that the basic idea of getting to zero nuclear weapons is so controversial, it shouldn't even be part of the START sales pitch.
"I don't fault ... President Obama for talking about a world without nuclear weapons, but neither do I think it is a particularly good idea to express the process in that way," Lugar said. "Talk of ‘no nukes' also invites opposition from those who see it as a sign of weakness in those who lack the backbone to face the world as it is. I don't think that criticism is fair, but it's out there."
A failure to ratify New START would not only risk the NPT and the goal of eliminating nukes, advocates of passage say, it would also spell trouble for the rest of the Obama administration's arms-control agenda, including the president's promise to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and then pursue a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which would seek to end the production of weapons grade nuclear material.
When the Senate last voted on CTBT in 1999, which was also the last time the Senate had a contentious debate over arms control, its defeat was a huge blow for the Clinton administration and no arms-control debates have been see on the Senate floor since.
"The alternative [to ratification] is no START treaty, no verification, a clear setback to U.S.-Russian relations and widespread questioning of U.S. ability to carry forth international agreements if we can't get this treaty through," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World.
He said that CTBT would be a difficult treaty to ratify in any case, and after the November elections, the potential presence of more GOP senators will make it that much harder.
"The ultimate lesson of New START is that nothing's easy," he said.
Mark down Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Corker, R-TN, as an undecided leaning toward supporting President Obama's nuclear-arms reductions treaty with Russia.
Everybody interested in New START in Washington has been trying to do their own whip counts of GOP senators to see if Obama will be able get the eight to 10 Republican votes he will need to put the agreement into effect. Only one GOP senator (Richard Lugar, R-IN) has declared he will definitely support it. Just two (Jim DeMint, R-SC, and James Inhofe, R-OK) have said they will definitely vote no.
But there was much angst when all seven Republicans on the SFRC, except for Lugar, wrote to Chairman John Kerry, D-MA, on June 29 to complain that he was going too fast by pledging to move the treaty out of committee by the August recess. Corker signed that letter.
This week, the administration has been working those seven senators hard, and it seems to be working. Corker visited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday to talk about the treaty. Today, The Cable chased him down (literally) in the subway that connects the Capitol building to the Senate office buildings, and he said "I'm undecided but I'm very open [to supporting the treaty]."
Corker said he's not thrilled with the agreement but he's not opposed to the idea of reducing the nuclear arsenal on its face, unlike former governor Mitt Romney, who is raising cash based on his opposition to the pact. All Corker wants is a robust plan for nuclear modernization -- upgrading the United States' existing stockpile of atomic weapons and making sure they are in great condition -- and he should be good to go.
"The big issue at the end of the day in my opinion that's going to affect the approval of the treaty is going to be the real commitment to modernization and a real concrete plan over time of what specifically is going to happen," he said. "If we knew everything we had was modern and up to date, we could reduce even more."
That roughly matches the position of Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, who is furiously negotiating with the administration and Kerry to come to some agreement to move the treaty forward. Your humble Cable guy overheard a conversation in the hallway between a leading Democratic senator and a top staffer about a letter from President Obama to Kyl that was in the works, meant to alleviate Kyl's skepticism about the deal.
Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, who led the negotiations, briefed committee members Wednesday morning behind closed doors. Defense Secretary Robert Gates came to Capitol Hill Tuesday to make the case to the GOP. It's been reported that Vice President Joseph Biden is leading the administration's negotiations with Kyl. The full-court press is on.
As for modernization, the administration's fiscal 2011 budget request does have extensive funding for modernization, but Republicans want a longer-term plan. The Energy Department submitted its idea for that program to Congress in May, which was leaked and then published by the Federation of American Scientists. The DOE thinks the total effort could cost $175 billion.
The timing aspect is crucial because the GOP might want to stall long enough to deny Obama a foreign-policy victory before the November election. Another reason for Republicans to stall could be that they plan to vote for the treaty, but don't want to have to defend it before the elections to conservative voters across the country who are hearing from Romney & co. that the treaty weakens America.
For the Democrats, they know they can't wait until the new Congress gets seated, when even more GOP votes will likely be needed. So a possible compromise being discussed is to pass it during the lame-duck session in December, when senators can somewhat disregard the politics. It's too early to say that's the plan ... yet.
On 10:50 Tuesday night, Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri boarded Qatar Airways flight 52, bound for Doha. When he arrives at 6:30 Wednesday evening Qatar time, he'll board another plane to Tehran, his home.
The details of Amiri's life since the last time he was in Iran, 14 months ago, are sure to remain in dispute for some time. In an interview aired on Iranian state television Wednesday, Amiri accused U.S. and Saudi agents of kidnapping and drugging him while he was on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, eventually taking him to the United States. In another video released last month, however, Amiri claimed he was in the United States voluntarily and studying for a doctorate.
According to one source who spoke extensively with Amiri before he left the United States, his current story is the following: When he was in Medina, Saudi Arabia, in June 2009, a van pulled up as he was leaving his hotel room on the way to the mosque, and men he didn't know forced him into it.
The next sequence of events is hazy, according to Amiri's account. He says he must have been drugged, because the next thing he remembers is being in Washington, D.C., and in the custody of unspecified American intelligence organizations. They allegedly moved him around the country over the next 14 months, and he says that he spent much of his time in Arizona as well as Washington.
Amiri claims that he didn't give U.S. intelligence officers any information, and was caught by surprise when, on Monday night, he was taken out of his secret hiding location and put in a cab. The cab drove straight to the Iranian interests section in Georgetown, which is supervised by the Pakistani Embassy. A U.S. government car trailed the cab, he claims.
Amiri's alleged captors did not torture him physically, he now says, but they did abuse him "emotionally," placing him under great mental strain during his captivity. He did not talk about how or why he was able to produce three YouTube videos and publish them on the Internet.
According to two diplomatic sources close to the issue, the most plausible explanation is that Amiri defected willingly to the United States, but at some point decided he wanted to return to Iran. U.S. intelligence officers may have also decided that holding him was not yielding the benefits commensurate to the costs, and put him out. Under this theory, Amiri is now trying to restore his place in the system of the country he betrayed, while concocting a cover story about being kidnapped.
Amiri has a wife and son who still live in Iran. One source speculated that the Iranians could be threatening his family in order to coerce him to relate his current version of events. That would at least explain why Amiri is taking the huge risk of placing himself back into the hands of the Iranian regime.
Surrounded by Iranian minders during his meetings Tuesday with foreign officials who visited the interests section before going to the airport, Amiri told them he was happy to be going back to Tehran and relieved to be joined again with his Iranian friends. Appearing upbeat but nervous, he answered questions on Tuesday carefully and denied that he was being coerced to tell this latest version of the events surrounding his disappearance.
Our source said he got tripped up on questions that he wasn't prepared for, which some in the room took as a signal he wasn't being honest, and was trying hard to avoid contradicting himself as he told his tale.
Amiri's story conflicts with what little information the State Department has released regarding the case. For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Amiri came to the U.S. of his own free will and leaves on his own accord. "He's free to go, he was free to come, these decisions are his alone to make," she said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that Amiri got to the Iranian interests section on his own. What seems clear is that the Iranians were ready for him: His travel back to Tehran was already being planned when he arrived.
In the absence of hard facts, rumors regarding Amiri's return to Iran continue to swirl. One source speculated that there may have been a swap deal between Iran and the United States, whereby Amiri would return to the Islamic Republic and then, sometime in the near future, Iranian officials would release the three American hikers they have held since July 2009, or even ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran in 2007.
Until the Obama administration gives a full account of its side of the story, Amiri's tale of the last 14 months of his life will be the only version of events that the public will hear. State Department officials continue to dance around the U.S. government's connection with him, and the circumstances leading to his departure.
"He has been in the United States, you know, for some time," Crowley said at Tuesday's briefing. "The United States government has maintained contact with him. I can't tell you specifically when he made this decision to return, you know, to Iran, but as we indicated today and as the secretary mentioned a bit ago, he's here of his free will and he's -- this is his decision to depart, and we are helping to facilitate that departure."
"We didn't seize him and bring him here, and we're not preventing him from returning to Iran," Crowley said. "That is how we do things here in the United States."
When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible -- and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors.
"I think it is important to send a clear message to North Korea that provocative actions have consequences," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said May 21 while visiting her Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.
Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn't even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.
The statement acknowledges that the South Korean investigation, which included broad international participation, blamed North Korea, and then "takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."
"Therefore, the Security Council condemns the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan," the statement reads.
The White House's spokesman on such matters, Mike Hammer, issued a statement clearly stating that the Obama administration believes North Korea was responsible and arguing that the U.N. statement "constitutes an endorsement of the findings" of the Joint Investigative Group that issued the report blaming North Korea.
So the U.S. and the South Koreans believe North Korea was guilty but the U.N. isn't willing to go that far. But what about the next step? Will there be any follow up, any "consequences" for North Korea, as Clinton seemed to promise in May?
"I think right now we're just allowing North Korea to absorb the international community's response to its actions," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday.
North Korea's representative to the U.N., Sin Son Ho, called the statement a "great diplomatic victory."
"That doesn't sound like a lot of absorption," one member of the State Department press corps shot back at Toner.
When asked what comes next, Toner said there were no plans to pursue additional measures, other than enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, and there were no outstanding requests from South Korea for additional measures. "We'll wait and let the statement stand," he said.
So what happened between May and now? According to both South Korean and U.S. officials, the countries pushing for actual penalties were serious about it at first, as is shown in the June 4 letter from South Korea, endorsed by the U.S., which urged the Security Council to "respond in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea's military provocation in order to deter recurrence of any further provocation by North Korea."
But as China, ever the defender of the Hermit Kingdom, stalled on making any definitive statements about the incident, officials in Seoul and Washington began to worry that they might not be able to get any U.N. action whatsoever.
Then, toward the end of June, Beijing became nervous about the mounting international pressure and decided to try to wrap up the U.N. discussions as quickly as possible. They calculated that it was a losing game, so moved to get a statement out quickly with a small concession as a means of getting the whole issue behind them.
"This is less than we expected from the beginning," a South Korean official told The Cable, "But it clearly says the Cheonan was sunk by an attack, cites the five-country international joint-investigation result, and condemns it as a deplorable behavior. Even though it did not clarify it was North Korea's torpedo attack, it theoretically points the finger at North Korea as being responsible."
The South Korean official pointed at Russia and China as being responsible for the weakness of the statement.
"Definitely there has been a tough negotiation, especially to persuade the PRC and Russia, and this is result," the official said, "All the other countries except [China and Russia] strongly supported putting pressure on them."
Korea experts and former officials in Washington are sympathetic to the Obama administration's compromise in terms of the statement, but strongly lament that this administration seems not to be in any rush to do anything to engage North Korea or get back to tackling the problem of its growing nuclear arsenal.
"This is a glass one third full, with an explanation to convince you that it's not two thirds empty," said former North Korea negotiator Jack Pritchard, now president of the Korea Economic Institute. The statement was meant not to identify winners, but to allow everyone to avoid being named losers, he said.
"It's not clear cut and it's unsatisfactory, but it may have been the best that we could do," Pritchard acknowledged. The problem as he sees is it that now the Obama administration is back to the status quo, which means no discernable progress on North Korea nuclear discussions, something referred to as "strategic patience."
Joel Wit, another former negotiator who is now a visiting fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the time is way past overdue to find some way to get back to talking with North Korea.
"The key issue here is, are we ready to turn this corner and try to return to some sort of negotiation, some sort of dialogue that tries to deal with the problems between us, or do we just continue with strategic patience?" Wit said.
Pritchard warned that because Pyongyang has backed off its promise to move towards denuclearization and the Obama administration can't accept a nuclear North Korea, the only way to move forward would be to get North Korea to change its calculus... and that can only be done with Chinese help.
"It requires at least a perception that the Chinese will abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 and that's not currently the case," said Pritchard. "Strategic patience is an attitude, not a policy."
LEE JAE-WON/AFP/Getty Images
Conservative opposition to the new nuclear reductions treaty between the United States and Russia has entered a new phase, with detractors expanding their aim outside of Washington in the hope of building grassroots support for their drive to thwart Senate ratification and make the treaty the centerpiece of their criticism of President Obama's foreign-policy agenda.
Mitt Romney, the once and future Republican presidential candidate, unofficially announced the GOP's change in tone with a Washington Post op-ed entitled "Obama's Worst Foreign Policy Mistake."
In the article, Romney repeats all the longstanding criticisms of the treaty put forth by some Republican senators: that it constrains U.S. missile defense expansion, allows for Russia to opt out at any time, ignores Russia's advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, and generally gives more to the Russians than they are giving back.
Defense writers such as Fred Kaplan have pointed out factual errors in Romney's piece, and even Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, felt the need Wednesday to respond directly with his own Post op-ed, where he took on Romney's arguments point by point and also accused the former Massachusetts governor of demagogueing the issue to score political points with conservative voters.
"Even in these polarized times, anyone seeking the presidency should know that the security of the United States is too important to be treated as fodder for political posturing," Kerry wrote.
But the expansion of the New START debate into the national political arena is not an accident. The anti-ratification crowd is mobilizing supporters all over the country with the express aim of making START a pillar of conservative opposition to President Obama's foreign policy.
One of the main activities signaling this shift is a nationwide lobbying effort recently begun by the group Heritage Action for America, a new organization closely tied to the Heritage Foundation, the well-known conservative think tank. Heritage Action for America was established as 501c4 organization, which means it can do direct lobbying on the Hill and broad grassroots lobbying around the country.
Killing START is one of the group's two keystone efforts, along with a drive to push a repeal of the new health-care bill in the House. The organization is now circulating a petition to its 671,000 dues-paying members featuring a video of Romney criticizing the treaty.
"To date, discussion of New START has been an inside-the-beltway issue with little input from the American people," Heritage Action's CEO Michael A. Needham told The Cable. "Given the potential impact of the treaty on American security, Heritage Action is committed to giving Americans a conservative voice in Washington. Our petition drive will empower Americans who oppose the treaty and ensure their senator will take note. It is the first step towards stopping New START."
And Heritage Action is not stopping there. The group has a detailed plan to target lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and persuading wavering senators to oppose the treaty. Votes up for grabs include moderate Republicans like Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, but also conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson, D-NE, and Evan Bayh, D-IN.
The group also intends to put people on the ground in key districts while pressing their supporters to make their opposition to START known to their senators.
The new movement is timed to have an impact just as the drive to ratify New START heats up in the Senate. But the full-throated opposition to START as espoused by Heritage Action and Romney goes beyond the current position of many Senate Republicans who now are at the center of the START ratification debate.
This June 30 letter to Kerry from all the committee Republicans except for ranking member Richard Lugar, R-IN, argues that the Senate needs more time and information to examine the treaty but doesn't argue that the treaty is unacceptable on its face. Even the new agreement's leading Senate critic, Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, hasn't come out to say he opposes the treaty -- at least not yet.
Kerry's July 1 response letter points out that reams of documents on the new treaty have been given to Congress and more are on the way. Congress has already received reports on Russian compliance with the old START treaty up to when it expired last December and a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate on the new agreement, as required by law.
The compliance reports are important because the last report in 2005 revealed Russian cheating. There is also a "verifiability assessment" that State Department sources said will reach the Hill July 12. As for the NIE, sources familiar with the document say it hedges enough that either side could interpret it to fit their own frame. For example, the various levels of "confidence" the intelligence community gave to its assessments don't really help either side because they are so noncommittal.
That leaves only one document for Kyl and other senators to really fight about: their longstanding request for the full negotiating record for the new START treaty, which they suspect would reveal secret deals the administration is accused of making with the Russians regarding missile defense -- something the administration has flatly denied.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have resisted handing over such records, and past administrations have reluctantly agreed to hand them over while warning about the damaging effect such disclosures can have on the executive's ability to conduct negotiations.
Regardless, some GOP offices are prepared to make a big issue out of it. "By continuing to insist, contrary to history and precedent, that it will not share the negotiating record of the treaty, at least as it pertains to tactical nuclear weapons, missile defense and prompt global strike, the administration is simply showing that it isn't serious about getting the treaty ratified," said one senior GOP aide close to the issue.
One administration official said he believes the fight over the record is all about politics. Supporters of the treaty argue that Republicans want to deny Obama a foreign-policy success before the mid-term elections.
"The Republican demand for the negotiating record is akin to throwing mud against the wall to see what sticks ... Because the arguments against the treaty and the nomination are not working, they are just resorting to desperation tactics to create talking points," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World.
Will it work? It's still too early to tell. Nobody seems to know how many votes can be relied upon for ratification, making the next three weeks leading up the August recess, when Kerry intends to move the treaty out of committee, crucial.
Pro-treaty forces already have their own grassroots effort underway, with participation by the Council for a Livable World, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Ploughshares Fund, the Arms Control Association, and Global Zero, a group that has its own movie and petition to support the drive to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.
"The START treaty now figures prominently into what Global Zero is doing," said Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione, who noted that Global Zero has already given out dozens of grants around the country. "This effort alone might dwarf what the Heritage Foundation is doing on a community and grassroots level."
He also pointed to bipartisan groups that are supporting New START, including the Partnership for a Secure America, which rounded up dozens of former officials from both parties to come out and support the agreement.
"There's an ongoing and increasing drive both at the grassroots and elite levels, aimed both at Republicans and Democrats, whereas the Heritage Action effort is only aimed at Republicans, and far right Republicans at that," Cirincione said.
President Obama has announced his intention to use a recess appointment to push through the nomination of a leading critic of missile defense to be one of his top science advisors.
Philip Coyle was named in March as Obama's nominee to become the associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The nomination elicited a coordinated campaign by conservatives to oppose his selection, based on their longstanding disagreement with Coyle over the Bush administration's efforts to rapidly expand ballistic missile defense deployment all over the world.
In his new post, Coyle will lead a team tasked with giving scientific advice to Obama on a range of national-security issues and report to OSTP Director John Holdren.
Coyle has decades of experience, having watched the U.S. missile-defense program evolve from a 1983 speech by Ronald Reagan to a worldwide system of radars and interceptors still being pursued by President Obama. During the Clinton administration, he was the Pentagon's director for operational test and evaluation, which played a key oversight role in the program.
Since 2001, Coyle has been a leading scholar at the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank focused on weapons and procurement issues. He also spent years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and once served as principal deputy assistant secretary for defense programs in the Department of Energy.
Coyle is also an outspoken critic of the way missile defense has been developed, tested, and deployed. He has often argued that the testing done by the Pentagon on ballistic missile-defense components since 2001 has been either shoddy or thin. Moreover, he has repeatedly questioned the basic rationale for investing billions to deploy ballistic missile defense around the world, especially in Eastern Europe.
"In my view, Iran is not so suicidal as to attack Europe or the United States with missiles," he testified before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee in 2009. "But if you believe that Iran is bound and determined to attack Europe or America, no matter what, then I think you also have to assume that Iran would do whatever it takes to overwhelm our missile defenses, including using decoys to fool the defenses, launching stealthy warheads, and launching many missiles, not just one or two."
Obama opposed recess appointments when he was a senator, but since assuming office, he's changed his tune. The Senate has failed to act on scores of his nominees, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, has been leading a charge to change the rules in the Senate to make public the "secret holds" that often stall such nominations.
"It's unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes," Obama said in his statement announcing the appointments. "These recess appointments will allow three extremely qualified candidates to get to work on behalf of the American people right away.
More than 180 nominees are currently awaiting action from the Senate, the White House said.
According to the Congressional Research Service, "The Recess Appointments Clause [in the Constitution] was designed to enable the President to ensure the unfettered operation of the government during periods when the Senate was not in session and therefore unable to perform its advice and consent function."
Coyle's appointment will expire at the end of this session of Congress, meaning he would have to be nominated again at the end of this year. GOP Senate offices are already promising to oppose his nomination again when that time comes.
"Hopefully, when Coyle loses his job at the end of the Congress, they appoint someone a little less ideological next time," one senior GOP senate aide said.
A similar situation surrounded George W. Bush's appointment of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations during a congressional recess in 2005. Bolton resigned at the end of that Congress, knowing his confirmation following the 2006 victory by the Democrats would be unlikely.
The White House confirms that President Obama will sign into law Thursday sweeping new measures to impose unilateral penalties on companies that contribute to broad swaths of Iran’s energy and banking sectors.
The signing will take place in the East Room of the White House, and will include "members of Congress, leaders of organizations that worked to pass the bill," and U.S. officials including U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, according to an adminstration official.
The legislation, led by Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, D-CT, and House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, was passed by the House and Senate last week by votes of 408-8 and 99-0, respectively.
The administration has said repeatedly that implementing the sanctions does not signal an end to its two-track policy of mixing engagement and pressure. The White House hopes the measures will convince Iran to come back to the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, Iran is planning to meet again with Brazil and Turkey to follow up on the nuclear fuel-swap deal the three countries announced just before the U.N. Security Council voted to impose its own new sanctions on Tehran. The Obama administration has been clear that it considers the Brazil-Turkey deal insufficient and inadequate in dealing with international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is quickly becoming the leading spokesman arguing against President Obama's reset policy with Russia, but his penchant for extreme rhetoric and loose understanding of the facts is overshadowing his message and, according to the administration, unhelpfully muddying the discussion.
DeMint has made increasing forays into the foreign-policy game this year. He was a key player in the Honduras policy debate, taking sides against ousted president Manuel Zelaya weeks before the administration eventually followed suit. He is deeply involved in the GOP drive to hold up a range of State Department nominees, and has used his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to stall the appointment of international broadcasting officials as well.
But when it comes to Russia, DeMint's rhetoric is hurting his case. That was on full display during an event on the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held by the Foreign Policy Initiative Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol building, where the senator referred to Russia several times as the "Soviet Union."
"Clearly the Soviet Union as a democracy is a fraud. Rule of law is very loose, foreign investment is very low," he said. "The Soviet Union, I mean Russia, is making the countries around it concerned with how Russia is constantly trying to manipulate their elections, undermine their freedom, and impose some control."
Think Progress blogger Max Bergmann noted that DeMint called Russia the Soviet Union at a hearing on the new START treaty last week as well.
At the FPI event, DeMint also explained his overall take on Russia. "Russia is trying to undermine American strength in different parts of the world. As we think of Russia, it s important to think of them as a threat to many and a protector of none," he said. He also at one point said, "I don't pretend to be an expert."
DeMint's expertise on Russia was also called into question after he seemingly misrepresented the objectives of both the Bush and Obama administrations in deploying ballistic missile defense systems in Europe.
At a May 18 hearing, he complained that the current design of the system isn't sufficient to combat Russia's missile arsenal, which numbers into the thousands. "Is it not desirable for us to have a missile defense system that renders their threat useless?," he asked.
Both administrations have gone to great pains to explain that the system has always been aimed at Iran, not Russia, and it's hard to find a credible expert who believes that any feasible conception of missile defense could be built to overpower the Russian capability.
Inside the Obama administration, officials look at DeMint's Russia activity with a mixture of amusement and concern. They believe that he is sacrificing his own credibility by fumbling on the issue, but at the same time, they worry that foreign governments and publics might actually take him seriously.
"We are happy to let Senator DeMint keep digging away at the hole he is already in," an administration official told The Cable. "He seems to have forgotten that even the Rumsfeld-led Pentagon in the last administration explicitly ruled out a U.S. missile defense system targeting Russia's nuclear forces -- and for good reason."
But they don't discount the effect DeMint is having on the debate. Among administration officials, there is some legitimate concern that DeMint's statements only reinforce the paranoia of some elements in Russia (and China) that U.S. missile defense systems are indeed targeted at their strategic nuclear forces.
"It is unfortunate that the hard-liners in the United States and Russia feed off each other and feed the other's paranoia," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World. "Just as GOP senators quote Russian statements on missile defense to prove their case, Russians will be happy to quote Senator DeMint."
Sylvie Stein contributed to this article.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.