Congress could ratify a new nuclear treaty with Russia this year, although that is going to be no easy task, four leading senators told The Cable in separate, exclusive interviews Tuesday.
The delay in the signing of the treaty, known as "New START," combined with the Russian decision to temporarily get up from the table, has led many on Capitol Hill -- on both sides of the aisle -- to argue that there is just not enough time to go through a lengthy treaty ratification process that Congress hasn't attempted in years. Many are skeptical that leading critics of the process will allow the ratification to go through, even when it reaches the Hill.
Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, who will be responsible for shepherding the treaty through the Senate, said its survival will depend on when it actually materializes and whether the administration is able to keep contentious issues like missile defense out of the document.
"It depends on when we get it; we haven't seen it," Kerry said. "The administration is appropriately holding out for what we need to make the treaty verifiable and that will help it pass."
Kerry said there are legitimate disagreements with the Russians, mainly over how to address U.S. missile defense plans, but the administration has to continue to try to minimize the presence of issues that could provoke a backlash among leading GOP Senators such as Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, who has been wrangling with the State Department over the negotiations.
"If the agreement is hailed as being pretty solid and doesn't set up a number of questions about America's security that can be exploited in the context of the debate, it could pass," Kerry said. "If it has those kinds of questions, it could be problematic."
As for whether there are 67 votes for it in the Senate, Kerry said, "I have no idea."
His counterpart, committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, was actually more optimistic.
"I remain hopeful that it will be signed and that there will be time assigned on the floor for debate and a vote this year," said Lugar, who added he would support the treaty "unless there are extraordinary changes beyond those that I've heard about."
He said it was not a foregone conclusion that Republican senators like Kyl, John McCain, R-AZ, and Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, would oppose the treaty, despite their written objection to the latest reports that Russia is planning to issue a unilateral statement reserving the right to withdraw from the new treaty if U.S. missile defense plans upset "strategic stability."
McCain told The Cable Wednesday he would be "adamantly opposed to including anything that has to do with missile defense, in anything," even a unilateral statement aside the treaty.
"Apparently we were very close to an agreement and it seems like there is some insistence on their part to include missile defense in some way," McCain said of the Russians, adding, "Jon Kyl and I find that totally unacceptable."
Another important player in the debate is Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Robert Casey, Jr., D-PA, who is taking on an increased role in nuclear issues. He was more optimistic than any of his counterparts about the prospects for ratification this year.
"I think we can do it and I think we should," Casey said. "Often in Washington the pronouncement of what's dead and what's alive is fiction. I think we can pass it and I think we should try to pass it."
"I don't think we have 67 votes today," Casey admitted. But he said vote counting should wait until the administration and the treaty's advocates have a chance to really push the debate.
"I don't underestimate the difficulty of making progress on START," Casey said.
The Obama administration's choice as envoy to an upcoming conference on disarmament can't get confirmed as her nomination gets tied up with other nonproliferation issues, an administration official tells The Cable.
The Senate cleared almost 30 nominations on Feb. 11 after Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, backed off his "blanket hold" due to public pressure, but Laura Kennedy, whom Obama wants to make an ambassador-level U.S. envoy to the April conference, was not among them. Her nomination is being held up by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, who is using the issue to bargain for items related to the START follow-on treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, according to the official.
"Kennedy's position has nothing to do with those items," the official complained.
Intensive negotiations conducted by Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma have failed to yield an agreement. Kyl is asking for unfettered access to the executive branch's negotiating record on CTBT, which no administration has ever provided, as well as access to more information on the ongoing START negotiations, according to the official.
"He will have every chance to scrutinize START when it is submitted for ratification. His pleas for info now are a transparent effort to kill the negotiations," the official said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, alluded to the reasons behind Kennedy's stalled nomination in a floor speech Feb. 9.
"It is too bad the United States of America, a nuclear power in the world, does not have a representative of ambassadorial rank to represent the United States at disarmament conferences," Reid said. "Why it is being held up has nothing to do with her qualifications or background. It is some other reason."
"For the past several months, Senator Kyl has made requests with the State Department to provide information relating to START and the Iran Sanctions Act," a Kyl aide said. "For some reason they've been reluctant to respond. Consequently, Senator Kyl is reluctant to consider their nominees."
The release of the Obama administration's review of its nuclear strategy will be delayed even further as the government stakeholders continue to debate what options to ultimately present to President Obama, the Senate Armed Services Committee has confirmed.
The Cable previously reported that the administration had notified Congress the Feb. 1 release date of the Nuclear Posture Review would be pushed back to March 1, which is next Monday. But multiple sources both in and out of government now say that mid to late March is the new thinking, following the latest principals' meeting and a still-unresolved debate over how the document will characterize the fundamental role of nuclear weapons. Obama is scheduled to review his final options on March 17, multiple sources said.
"One reason for the delay is a very heated debate about the mission issue," said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, referring to what's known as the "declaratory policy," the basic message the U.S. sends about when it reserves the right to use nukes. "There are people on both sides of the fence."
Several sources said that the debate pits the office of Vice President Joseph Biden against the Office of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, with the State Department somewhere in between. Biden is said to be advocating for a policy that minimizes the scenarios under which nukes could be used while Gates wants to preserve as much flexibility as possible.
The current policy of "calculated ambiguity," which deliberately keeps U.S. intentions unclear, is almost certain to be changed. Nonproliferation advocates want the policy to be either "no first use," or that the "sole purpose" of nukes is to deter other countries, but neither of those is likely to be the final word.
In between there are a number of steps along the spectrum. The document could state that the U.S. reserves the right to use atomic weapons only to respond to a nuclear attack. Or, the wording could also allow nuke use in response to a WMD attack, to include biological and chemical weapons. Or it could carve out an exception for an "existential" attack, such as if South Korea was about to be overrun by North Korean conventional forces.
"We know ‘first use' and ‘sole purpose' are essentially off the table, but they will make steps toward that direction," said Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists, "The question is how many steps they will take toward that and whether they will mention that as a goal."
"The delay might actually be helpful," said Ivan Oelrich, vice president of the Strategic Security Program at the Federation of American Scientists. A busy White House can now give the review more senior level attention, which could improve the final outcome, he said.
Some other details about the ongoing review that are coming out include several sources saying the document will not call for nuclear withdrawal from Europe, although it may say it's up for discussion or even go so far to say that NATO no longer requires nukes in Europe.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has been increasing his calls for a NATO discussion about removing U.S. nuclear weapons from his country and the Belgians have sounded off on the issue as well.
The Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review tipped the administration's hand a little, stating. "To reinforce U.S. commitments to our allies and partners, we will consult closely with them on new, tailored, regional deterrence architectures that ... make possible a reduced role for nuclear weapons in our national security strategy."
Multiple experts who have been briefed on the process they will be looking at whether the NPR will alter the approach to the basic targets of the majority of the nuclear weapons, Russia and China.
"It's not enough to tinker with the regions," said Kristensen. "You have to tackle the big, tough issue about how to posture against Russian and China. If you can't get to that, then we are just going to be plunking along for the next decade with the same basic scenarios that we have today."
"That's the dog that never barked. They never even thought about taking that on," said Young. "That would have the real transformational change Obama called for in Prague."
As the Obama administration finishes up negotiations over the lynchpin of its strategy of hitting the "reset button" on U.S. relations with Russia, the "New START" nuclear arms reduction treaty, the big lingering question on everyone's mind is: Will the Senate actually be able to ratify the deal?
Senior Democratic senators, who strongly support the new treaty, aren't so sure.
"It's going to be hard to get it ratified," said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Levin said he hadn't done a vote count, but wasn't confident the treaty will get the 67 votes needed to make it the law of the land.
"I'm not even sure we'll get a referral from the Foreign Relations Committee," Levin added, promising to at least hold hearings on the issue.
Meanwhile, senior Senators such as Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, have been sending the administration public warnings about what they don't want to see in the agreement and have been using private methods to pressure the administration on the issue as well.
Kyl told The Cable in a brief interview Tuesday that he will not announce his stance until the final text surfaces, but there were some red lines that if crossed would trigger his opposition, which would be problematic.
"Unless it is accompanied by a [nuclear] modernization program that satisfies the requirements of the secretary of defense, it would be very difficult for the Senate to support the new START treaty," he said.
As Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher has said, the administration's new budget request does include a plan for what it calls "stockpile modernization," but Kyl complained that it "hasn't been fleshed out."
Administration officials tell The Cable they believe leading GOP voices like Kyl haven't yet decided whether to support ratification and are setting themselves up to be able to justify their decision either way when the time comes.
Kyl also stood by the letter that he, McCain, and Lieberman sent to National Security Advisor Jim Jones last week opposing any unilateral statement by Russia declaring its right to object to U.S. missile defenses by withdrawing from the treaty.
"I think it would be very damaging," Kyl said. "If there were a provision that the Russians would interpret as enabling them to unilaterally abandon the treaty if they didn't like what we were doing on missile defense, I think that would be very troubling to me and my colleagues in the Senate."
Levin countered that the prospect of Russia declaring its right to withdraw was no justification for standing in the way of the agreement.
"They can withdraw unilaterally for any reason, so I don't know that that's a good reason to object," Levin said, adding, "The United States withdrew unilaterally from the ABM treaty when we decided it was in our interest, right?"
In an unprecedented display of Japanese concern about U.S. nuclear plans, more than 200 Japanese parliamentarians have written to President Obama asking him to drastically alter the U.S. approach to nuclear weapons.
The letter comes as the Obama administration is putting the final touches on its wholesale review of nuclear weapons policy, called the Nuclear Posture Review.
"As members of the Diet of the only country to have experienced nuclear bombings ... We strongly desire that the United States immediately adopt a declaratory policy stating that the ‘sole purpose' of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter others from using such weapons," said the letter, which Japanese lawmakers hand delivered to U.S. Ambassador John Roos on Feb. 19.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, however, administration officials have told The Cable that although the final version of the NPR isn't finished, no fundamental change in the role of nuclear weapons is expected to be announced.
The letter also contained a thinly veiled reference to the concern that Japan could consider a nuclear program of its own.
"We are firmly convinced that Japan will not seek the road toward possession of nuclear weapons if the U.S. adopts a "sole purpose" policy," the letter stated.
The Japanese aren't the only allies calling for quick action on Obama's pledge to move toward a nuclear free world, as promised in his April speech in Prague. On Feb. 20, Belgian officials announced they would spearhead a call by Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway for the U.S. to remove all of its nuclear warheads from Europe.
The State Department today urged Iran to publicly address issues raised in a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities.
"We cannot explain why it refuses to come to the table and engage constructively to answer the questions that have been raised," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters today, "And you have to draw some conclusions from that."
Crowley noted that this was the first report on the issue from the IAEA since the agency's new director general, Yukiya Amano, took up his post and the first since the existence of Iran's secret uranium enrichment facility near Qom was exposed last September.
"There is no explanation for that facility that is consistent with the needs of a civilian nuclear program. And it characterizes the way in which Iran has conducted its relations with the IAEA and its failure to satisfactorily explain, you know, what its activities and ambitions are in the nuclear sphere," Crowley said.
Regarding the Qom facility, the IAEA report said the agency has information disputing Iran's contention that it chose the location in 2007. The agency says it was planned in 2006, when Iran would have been require to notify the IAEA. Iran has failed to answer properly several of the IAEA's questions on Qom, the report stated.
"The Agency has verified that the construction of the facility is ongoing, but that no centrifuges had been introduced into the facility as of 16 February 2010," it reads.
"The IAEA report shows in stark terms that Iran continues to obfuscate on its safeguards obligations," said Nima Gerami of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Regrettably, results from the IAEA's inspection of Iran's enrichment plant near Qom are still pending because Iran delayed access to the facility last October and ElBaradei did little to put his foot down."
Amano is not doing much better, according to Gerami.
"If Amano wants to be successful he should report as straightforwardly as possible in explaining Iran's safeguards failures and avoid using falsely reassuring statements, as he did in this report, that the IAEA seeks to ensure its continuing ability to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material" in Iran.
Yesterday, The Cable previewed Vice President Joseph Biden's major speech on nuclear policy, which he delivered today at the National Defense University.
Here's the full text of Biden's speech and here are some important excerpts:
On defending the administration's plan to reduce the nuclear stockpile:
Capabilities like an adaptive missile defense shield, conventional warheads with worldwide reach, and others that we are developing enable us to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, as other nuclear powers join us in drawing down. With these modern capabilities, even with deep nuclear reductions, we will remain undeniably strong.
On the Bush administration's neglect of the nation's nuclear infrastructure:
Unfortunately, during the last decade, our nuclear complex and experts were neglected and underfunded. Tight budgets forced more than 2,000 employees of Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore from their jobs between 2006 and 2008, including highly-skilled scientists and engineers. And some of the facilities we use to handle uranium and plutonium date back to the days when the world's great powers were led by Truman, Churchill, and Stalin. The signs of age and decay are becoming more apparent every day.
On the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty:
A decade ago, we led this effort to negotiate this treaty in order to keep emerging nuclear states from perfecting their arsenals and to prevent our rivals from pursuing ever more advanced weapons. We are confident that all reasonable concerns raised about the treaty back then - concerns about verification and the reliability of our own arsenal - have now been addressed. The test ban treaty is as important as ever.
On Obama's pledge to work towards a goal of zero nuclear weapons:
Oppenheimer famously lamented, after watching the first mushroom cloud erupt from a device he helped design, that he had become "the destroyer of worlds." President Obama is determined, and I am as well, that the destroyed world Oppenheimer feared must never become our reality. That is why we are pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. The awesome force at our disposal must always be balanced by the weight of our shared responsibility.
When Vice President Joseph Biden takes to the podium Thursday to give a major policy speech on nuclear weapons policy, he will have two goals: setting the stage for a long string of nonproliferation events this spring, and setting the record straight on his boss's nuclear vision.
Barack Obama's administration is taking active steps to combat what they see as false narratives being put out by the Republicans when it comes to nuclear policy. Obama is not advocating unilateral disarmament, as many conservatives have alleged. The White House also seeks to defend itself against the perception that Republicans are somehow inherently stronger on nuclear issues. And lastly, Biden wants to dispel the notion that the goal of zero nuclear weapons is some naive, liberal pipe dream that ignores current and future threats.
"He's going to lay out what are the challenges that we face and explain why engaging in a mutual process of reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons, reducing their numbers, in conjunction with other states, in conjunction with international fora and institutions, all help toward achieving those goals," said one administration official previewing the speech to The Cable on background basis.
Biden will also tout the administration's proposed $600 million increase for maintaining the nuclear stockpile in its fiscal 2011 budget request as evidence that the Obama administration is strong on nuclear issues. The official said that despite loud rhetoric, the Bush administration underfunded these accounts.
"The speech is to further expand on the budget request and to key up the series of rapid-fire events that will be occurring this spring," the official said.
And a busy spring it will be. The administration is gearing up for a push on the soon to be finalized START follow-on treaty with Russia, the defense of its budget request in Congress, the nonproliferation conference in Washington in April, and the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in May.
Biden's speech, which will be given at the National Defense University after being postponed due to snow, will build off of an op-ed the vice president wrote in the Wall Street Journal last month.
No real news on either the START negotiations, missile-defense deployments, or the soon-to-be finalized Nuclear Posture Review is expected. Nor will Biden discuss new efforts to build civilian nuclear energy plants. "That's completely separate," the official said.
Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher said in a speech Wednesday that the NPR is expected to come out in early March, a little later than the March 1 deadline previously announced and much later than the original Dec. 1 deadline.
Nonproliferation advocates are encouraged by the Obama administration's actions thus far on nuclear disarmament, but worry that the NPR will not fundamentally reframe how America views the use of nuclear weapons, as they would hope.
"We've been told to expect a modest document," said Stephen Young, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The president has recognized that nuclear weapons are now a liability rather than an asset. They create more problems than they solve. He can make us more secure by changing how the United States and the rest of the world think about nuclear weapons."
A new gambit by Russia to link missile defense to a still-pending nuclear arms agreement is threatening to throw another wrench into plans to quickly sign and pass the deal in Congress.
The U.S.-Russian negotiations over the update to the recently expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty were supposed to be separate from the fraught issue of American missile defenses in Europe. After all, that's what Presidents Obama and Medvedev agreed to when they met in July.
Since then, Russian officials including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have explicitly linked U.S. missile defense plans to the treaty. Now, two sources who were briefed on the negotiations say the Russians intend to release a statement declaring their right to unilaterally withdraw from the new agreement if they believe U.S. missile defense deployments upset "strategic stability."
Nothing's final until announced, but three key senators are already warning that they can't go along with that. In a not-yet-released letter obtained exclusively by The Cable, Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, warn National Security Advisor James L. Jones, "Even as a unilateral declaration, a provision like this would put pressure on the United States to limit its systems or their deployment because of Russian threats of withdrawal from the treaty."
The State Department won't comment on the record about classified negotiations, but says that such side statements are commonplace.
"Anybody who knows anything about treaties knows that it is customary to be able to withdraw for reasons pertaining to one's national interest, so there's nothing new or diabolical here," said Jonathan Kaplan, a spokesman for Ellen Tauscher, the department's top arms-control official.
After all, the U.S. did withdraw unilaterally from the anti-ballistic missile treaty when the Bush administration concluded it was no longer in American interests. And besides, the Obama administration's plan for missile defense in Europe is not aimed at Russia, State insists. In fact, the Obama administration has made efforts to stake out areas of cooperation with Russia, although those have met with limited success.
U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle's recent blog post about ongoing negotiations for a START follow-on agreement does not represent a shift in the U.S. position, despite the articles saying so.
Written in Russian, Beyrle's post says, "The treaty deals with offensive, not defensive systems, but since we acknowledge a logical link between them, our presidents have agreed that the treaty will contain a provision on the interconnection between strategic offensive and defensive weapons."
The Associated Press declared on its own authority that "Beyrle's statement indicated the U.S. stance has shifted," and that "Beyrle's statement apparently reflects an attempt by Washington to overcome Russia's suspicions of the U.S. missile defence plans."
Not so, say our State Department sources, who point out that Beyrle was simply referring to the July 8 Joint Understanding between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which said that the START follow-on would include "a provision on the interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms," nothing more, nothing less.
Multiple senior administration officials have told The Cable that this carefully negotiated compromise was well understood to mean that missile defense would be delinked from the START negotiations -- and that was the assumption the American team led by Rose Gottemoeller was working under.
Moreover, the July 6 joint statement of Obama and Medvedev made it clear that missile defense would be dealt with separately from the START follow-on talks.
"Beyrle's post simply refers to what both presidents said they would do in July," one administration official said.
Recent statements by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Russian military leader Nikolai Makarov have brought the missile-defense issue back into the discussion over a START follow-on treaty. State Department officials have indicated that the specifics of a reference to missile defense in the agreement might not be finalized.
"It's possible that the treaty text will refer to missile defense, but I can't do a play by play," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Thursday. But Beyrle's blog post is not an announcement of any such shift, and negotiations over the remaining details in the treaty are ongoing.
Were you wondering what the last remaining sticking point was inside the U.S.-Russian negotiations over a START follow-on treaty? Well, as it turns out, the issue is ... rocket science, and, more specifically, telemetry data.
What's telemetry, you ask? In this context, it's the assurance that if either side tests a missile, the detailed data about the test would be instantly available in real time to the other side. That assurance was part of the original START treaty, which expired in December, and the Obama administration wants similar language in the new treaty but the Russians are resisting.
Many insiders see the telemetry issue as somewhat of a red herring. New verification and tracking technologies, most of them classified, can provide the same capability without the Russians directly providing the data. But a lack of a provision on telemetry could complicate Senate ratification of START.
"For the United States, the politics matter because certain senators will go nuts without access to the data," said Travis Sharp, a nonproliferation expert at the Center for a New American Security. "Substantively, however, the United States may not need the same level of information as negotiated under START I, particularly because ‘New START' will likely have streamlined counting and verification rules and technological advancements allow us to get the data in other ways. On the other hand, Russia politically doesn't want our noses in their business and substantively is hesitant to give up too much information."
A diplomatic source told The Cable that the Russians are bargaining for access to telemetry data for U.S. missile defense tests in exchange for giving America telemetry data on their offensive missile tests. That's only their latest attempt to link START and missile defense, another potential problem for Senate ratification.
"Everybody knows that telemetry is bullshit [substantively], but it's become an issue nonetheless," the source explained. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been trying to link missile defense to START recently and this is one example.
"If we want to retain the balance, we have to establish an exchange of information: Let the U.S. partners provide us information on [their] missile defense while we will give them information on [our] offensive weapons," Mr. Putin said last month. The Russians are also pushing to have an acknowledgment of the relationship of missile defense to offensive weapons in the main body of the START agreement text, while the U.S. wants it in the preamble, the source said.
A very carefully worded acknowledgement of the link was included in the joint understanding Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in July.
Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher talked about the telemetry issue Wednesday morning and said that the "expectation has always been" that telemetry, which is very important to the Pentagon, would be included in the new treaty as "part of confidence building and to reassure both sides there won't be any sort of surprises."
She confirmed that telemetry was among the final issues on the table but portrayed it as not a major substantive issue.
"Telemetry is one of the last things to be done, but it's not a big issue or the most important thing," she said, adding that sometimes the fact that certain provisions were in a previous treaty creates the expectation that they will remain in the next treaty.
She implied, but didn't state explicitly, that the U.S. was not going to agree to share missile-defense data in exchange for the Russians agreeing to share their offensive telemetry data.
"This agreement is about strategic offensive systems. Missile defense is a defense system," she said.
One GOP Senate aide disputed Tauscher's assertion that telemetry isn't a major issue. The U.S. technologies that are said to compensate for a lack of telemetry data aren't necessarily 100 percent effective, the aide said, adding that not having access to Russia's data would add burden to the U.S. defense community that it didn't have before. "Why should we spend our resources on this when telemetry data gives us that capability for free?," he asked.
Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller is in Moscow now and could head back to Geneva later this month with her team to try to complete the agreement. Jan. 25 is the date being bandied about for the resumption of talks, but the Russians have yet to agree to return to the table.
The administration needs to get it ratified by the time the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference begins in May.
With Barack Obama's pledge to rid the world of nuclear weapons faltering out of the starting gate, leaders of the arms-control community convened a major meeting Tuesday to gear up for their biggest fights in years. The next few months will be critical, insiders say, with a number of key international treaties up for renewal and battle lines being drawn in Washington and abroad.
About 50 senior think tank and advocacy executives packed the K Street conference room of the Ploughshares Fund to strategize and rally the troops for the upcoming policy war. "This is going to be the fight of our lives," Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione told The Cable shortly after the meeting concluded.
A huge part of the effort will be to hold the administration to the ambitious arms-control agenda President Obama laid out in his Prague speech last April.
"The debate on Washington on these issues has been dominated by the conservatives because the administration has yet to take the field," Cirincione said. "That's about to change ... finally!"
The next six months will see either the significant advancement or the defeat of a host of arms-control priorities. The agenda includes ratification of the still-pending START follow-on agreement with Russia, the February release of the president's budget, the March release of the Nuclear Posture Review, a major summit on nuclear terrorism in Washington in April, and the Nonproliferation Treaty conference in May. A push for U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is also coming.
The Obama administration has been occupied with other crises and not eager to take on nuclear issues despite a heartfelt belief in their merit, Cirincione said. "They want to play it safe." The administration's window for action is open but small. By the end of summer, the congressional elections will crowd out Washington's bandwidth.
"If it doesn't get done by July, it doesn't get done," he said.
So the meeting, which included representatives from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Arms Control Association, the Council for a Livable World, the Federation of American Scientists, and others, was about marshalling those organizations' combined resources and preparing a full-on campaign to press their shared goals now.
The loosely organized group's strategy is fourfold: Push out facts and talking points supporting nuclear-weapons reductions into the press, increase the profile of the military, business, and religious leaders who back lower numbers of nuclear weapons, push sympathetic senators to be more active, and rally potential allies to the cause.
"There's really no secret to how you go about doing this, Cirincione said. "The trick is actually doing it." Crucial Senate allies include John Kerry, D-MA, Robert Casey, D-PA, Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Jack Reed, D-RI, and Byron Dorgan, D-ND, while conservatives such as Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and James Inhofe, R-OK, are set to press the administration for maximum concessions before letting any arms control action go through the Senate.
The advocates worry that such conservatives have controlled the debate over arms control, and that they need to shift to more of a hard-nosed Washington approach in response. Sources noted that Ploughshares has hired the Glover Park Group public relations firm to aid its messaging.
There's also a growing realization that continued delays in the negotiations over the START follow-on agreement with Russia mean that time is running out before the summer election season begins.
An agreement with the Russians could come this month, with debate in the Senate by the end of March. But, as The Cable has previously reported, another Senate debate over CTBT before July is seen as much more unlikely.
Regardless, the arms-control community is girding for the fight. "It was a call to action meeting and this high-level group is primed to put the expertise and resources of our organizations behind the effort," said the Arms Control Association's Daryl Kimball.
The Obama administration's rollout of its new nuclear strategy will be delayed until March, the Pentagon told Congress last week.
The notification came in the form of a letter from Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller to Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services committee, respectively. The letter, obtained by The Cable, said that the new strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, will be delivered to Congress on March 1, not Feb. 1 as was previously planned.
The announcement comes amid reports that the NPR is mired in an internal administration debate over some key issues, such as whether or not to abandon a "first use" policy, how many nuclear weapons are needed for whatever missions the NPR identifies as crucial, and how far the review will go toward advancing President Obama's stated goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.
But arms-control advocates see the delay as not so surprising (what review isn't delayed in Washington?) and they argue that the postponement will give the administration more time to give the NPR the senior-level attention it deserves.
"It's not particularly surprising. I believe it's due to the fact that principals haven't been able to really dig in to the substantive issues of the NPR," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
Some who favor sharp reductions and more commitments to a nuclear drawdown see the delay as one last chance to have their views considered by the White House and the National Security Council, which may have a different take than the Pentagon on some issues. For example, the Pentagon is said to be against adopting a "no first use" policy and may still be pushing for a new class of nuclear warhead.
The Bush administration program to build a new warhead, called the Reliable Replacement Warhead, is dead, senior administration officials such as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher have said repeatedly. But Tauscher and other have also indicated that they would present a budget in February that meets Senate Republican calls for "stockpile modernization," although there is no consensus on what that means.
"The trouble in the debate is that the term ‘modernization' gets used to describe a number of things, from new weapons to improvements to the nuclear weapons complex, and other things as well," said John Isaacs, executive director at the Council for a Livable World, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the goal of zero nuclear weapons that Obama announced in his Prague speech.
All 40 Senate Republicans and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman penned a letter to Obama in December specifically outlining several points they said must be included in the stockpile modernization program, which they are demanding in order to support the follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, which is being negotiated now.
The relationship between the NPR and the START follow-on agreement is an interesting one. It would seem that the administration would have to know its overall nuclear policy before negotiating weapons levels, and yet the START agreement may come out before the NPR.
Administration officials have told The Cable that the NPR tasked out a set of weapons numbers to inform the START negotiations months ago, so there shouldn't be any problem. Besides, the NPR is setting policy for future reductions, not just those to be agreed to in this negotiation, experts point out.
But for Senate Republicans, that explanation is simply not enough.
"The key thing for senators is, they do not understand how officials are in Geneva discussing force-level reductions and meanwhile the NPR is apparently delayed," said one senior GOP senate aide, adding that the GOP was not being briefed on the NPR's progress.
Meanwhile, the aide said that the follow-on START agreement could be ratified in the Senate only if the stockpile-management aspects of the president's budget meet the demands in the letter and if there is no link between START and missile defense, despite statements from the Russian side.
"If we wanted to kill the treaty, we would just let them negotiate a bad treaty and then kill it in the Senate," the aide said. "We're trying to help them come up with a treaty that can pass muster in the Senate."
UPDATE: Lt. Col. Jonathan Withingon, spokesman for the Pentagon policy shop, e-mails in this explanation in response to our request for an explanation for the delay. "As we're nearing completion, the Department requires additional time to appropriately address the range of complex issues under consideration in the Nuclear Posture Review."
Vladimir Putin deliberately threw a wrench into U.S.-Russian negotiations over a follow-on to the START nuclear reductions treaty yesterday when he explicitly linked the issue to U.S. missile-defense plans.
But what's not mentioned in these otherwise excellent articles by the New York Times' Ellen Barry and the Washington Times' Eli Lake on the development is that the prime minister's comments directly contradict the July 6 joint statement of U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who made it clear that missile defense would be dealt with separately from the START follow-on talks.
Moreover, in their July 8 Joint Understanding, the carefully negotiated compromise was spelled out. The START follow-on would include "a provision on the interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms," nothing more, nothing less. Multiple senior administration officials have told The Cable that this compromise was well understood to mean that missile defense would be delinked from the START negotiations -- and that was the assumption the American team led by Rose Gottemoeller was working under.
Some on the Obama team are now suggesting they have already
factored in these types of games coming from the Russian side.
"This is not unexpected and negotiations will resume in mid-January as we have said they would," said an administration source familiar with where things stand.
So what's going on? Well, there are two schools of thought among Russia experts. One is that Putin's comments represent a clear difference between his view of U.S.-Russia relations and Medvedev's. Medvedev, who is supposed to be in control of foreign policy, is more conciliatory and wants genuine rapprochement, the argument goes, whereas Putin ... not so much.
Under this theory, there are two power structures in Moscow and they are jockeying for control. But even in this analysis, time and time again, Putin seems to win the day by making the final decision.
"Perhaps there is a power struggle, but if there is, it's being overwhelmingly won and controlled by Putin's faction," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "Supposedly the idea was that Medvedev would tackle these types of issues. But then all the sudden Putin steps in and completely undermines him. Every time the going gets tough, Putin steps in and takes the reins."
The competing theory is that Putin and Medvedev are working somewhat in lockstep, again with Putin calling the shots and benefiting from the illusion of a power split. For Putin, it's useful to have Medvedev out there as the nice guy (aided by the fact that he may genuinely want to cooperate), setting up a good cop/bad cop routine. That catches Western officials off guard and makes it convenient for Putin because he can wait until negotiations with Medvedev play out and then make his move at the eleventh hour.
The bottom line is that the START talks now seem to be at an impasse. Since the administration doesn't deal directly as much with Putin's faction, resolving the dispute is problematic. And although the Obama team denies that its adjustment of plans to deploy missile defense to Poland and the Czech Republic was a concession to Russia, it would be a tough sell domestically to make any further concessions on missile defense and still get START ratified in the Senate.
So what can the administration do? Petersen recalls a similar incident when Ronald Reagan was negotiating the original START agreement with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik. Gorby demanded that START be linked to U.S. missile defense and Reagan said it was not negotiable and walked out of the room.
"The result of Reagan taking a hard line was that it wasn't linked from the beginning," said Petersen.
More broadly, the question is: What do the current problems with the START process say about Obama's pledge to reset relations with Russia? Perhaps that Russia is looking at the long term and isn't confident that Obama's overtures will be continued by successive administrations.
"They view Obama as somewhat of an anomaly in U.S. foreign policy, and START is for decades," Petersen said.
For the U.S. side, this might also change the calculation about giving Russia concessions before a negotiation is near completion.
"You give them a finger and they take an arm," said Petersen. "With this statement [from Putin], the debate has shifted completely."
"It would certainly make the treaty dead on arrival in the Senate," said one senior GOP Senate aide, who added that senators will be watching to make sure the Obama administration won't cut any side agreements involving the missile-defense program.
In Thursday's Nobel lecture, praised by many for its head-on attempt to grapple with the incongruity of a war-time president accepting a hallowed prize for peace, Barack Obama proudly cited his "effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them" and said that upholding the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was "a centerpiece of my foreign policy."
But as the president made clear throughout his speech, aspiration and reality are different beasts. Behind closed doors, his advisors are busy finalizing his administration's strategy for all things nuclear, according to a source outside government who was briefed on the internal deliberations. And if early reports are any indication, Obama's nuke-free world is still a ways off.
At issue is the 2009-2010 Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR for short, which is mandated by Congress and is supposed to lay out the Obama team's approach to aligning the U.S. nuclear arsenal with today's threats. After months of lower-level discussions and debate, the review is now nearly complete. Last Friday, the first deputies-level meeting was held, chaired by Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, with multiple representatives from the State Department, Pentagon, and the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration in attendance. A second high-level meeting was scheduled to be held soon afterward.
The tentative deadline for completing the work is Jan. 15 so that the document can go to the printer by Feb. 1, the source relayed, adding that the timeline could slip. Meanwhile, inside the process, the positions of the different government actors are becoming clear.
The Pentagon is said to be against reducing the overall U.S. nuclear arsenal any lower than whatever is agreed to in the ongoing negotiations with the Russians for a follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
"Though we've been told repeatedly that the president will be given options, at this meeting the Pentagon was making recommendations, rather than presenting options," the source said.
Previously, a senior administration official told The Cable that the NPR spun out an early analysis on nuclear-weapons levels specifically to inform the START follow-on negotiations, meaning that the two processes are closely coordinated and the numbers should match. The official also said that the limit for deployed warheads under the follow on would be between 1,500 and 1,675 and the limit on delivery vehicles would be somewhere between 500 (the Russian position) and 1,100 (the U.S. proposal).
Also, according to the official, the START follow-on will not limit weapons that aren't deployed and will not force either side to rearrange its strategic architecture, which on the U.S. side is based on what's known as the nuclear triad, the combination of intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, and submarine-based missiles.
On one critical issue that's a point of contention between the Defense Department, the State Department, and the Energy Department -- whether to build a new class of nuclear warheads -- Foggy Bottom seems to be winning the argument.
The Pentagon and NNSA are reportedly still pushing to move forward with the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, a Bush administration effort to build a new class of nuclear warheads that has been sold as a means of updating the arsenal and maintaining the nuclear expertise and experience found in the U.S. government.
Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher has made it clear that she opposes RRW and prefers a stockpile modernization plan, which could include some new weapons but would be branded as more of refurbishing the existing ones.
Advocates of new nukes lost ground inside the debate following a report by what's known as the "JASON" group, an independent scientific panel that was tasked to determine whether or not the existing nuclear stockpile needed new testing or could be relied upon using "Life Extension Programs."
"JASON finds no evidence that accumulation of changes incurred from aging and LEPs have increased risk to certification of today's deployed nuclear warheads," the report states, adding, "Lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs to date."
The new JASON report has forced NNSA to abandon efforts to call for increased reliability as a way to justify a decision to design a new warhead, the source explained. The NNSA put out a press release that many view as trying to undermine the report.
NNSA and Pentagon advocates are now switching their argument to focus on the issue of "surety," which is defined by the Pentagon to include a lot of things outside just the weapon itself, including the materiel, personnel, and procedures that contribute to the safety, security, reliability, and control of nuclear weapons, the source said.
"To the extent one wants to increase surety there are many ways that are cheaper, MUCH quicker, and more reliable than trying to design a new warhead," the source argued.
Tauscher and the Pentagon's Ted Warner were among the key officials involved in the NPR. Now that it's risen up the ranks, the key players are Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, and Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman. State's Robert Einhorn is also said to be playing a key role in the discussions.
As Amb. Stephen Bosworth and his delegation travels to Pyongyang to meet with North Korean officials, the State Department is setting the expectations bar low, continuing the Obama administration's wait-and-see approach to dealing with Kim Jong Il's regime.
"The purpose of their mission is to determine if the North Koreans are ready and willing to return to the Six-Party Talks and return to a serious discussion of denuclearization of the Korea Peninsula," a senior administration official said Monday, speaking on background basis. "Our agenda is quite narrow."
"After close consultation with our allies, we agreed that the best way to determine the North Koreans' intentions was to engage with them directly ... we don't have expectations one way or the other whether they are going to say yes or no."
In other words, there's no agreement yet by the North Korean regime to abide by the September 2005 declaration, which represents the last time the six parties were all on the same page, and there's no understanding that the North Koreans even want to return to multilateral talks at all.
Those were some of the preconditions that the Obama administration sought to secure in November meetings between North Korean negotiator Ri Gun and State Department Special Envoy Sung Kim when the two sides met behind closed doors informally in San Diego and New York. But even without any assurances, the Bosworth trip is going ahead.
The official praised the sanctions imposed under U.N. Security Resolution 1874, which sought to strengthen the arms embargo, and promised not to reward Pyongyang for doing things the North Koreans already agreed to, such as returning to the talks or standing by the previous agreement.
"There are no inducements or incentives, other than the fact that should they return to the talks they would be in a position to pursue some of the things that were possible should they proceed with denuclearization," the official said.
The official wouldn't comment on whether Bosworth would be able to meet with top North Korean leaders, such as Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju, as has been reported. The delegation Bosworth is leading has broad interagency representation: Daniel Russel of the National Security Council, Sung Kim from State, and the Defense Department's Michael Schiffer are all along for the trip.
In Monday's State Department press briefing, the theme of lowering expectations was repeated.
"We are having these talks to ensure a resumption of the Six-Party Talks and to reaffirm the September 2005 joint statement and its goal of complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, "So it's a very, very simple agenda."
Many Asia hands see the Obama administration approach to North Korea as pragmatic given the intransigence of Kim Jong Il's regime and its recent saber rattling. Unlike the Bush administration effort led by Chris Hill, the Obama team doesn't feel pressured to produce incremental results quickly, especially at the expense of possible longer-term success.
"I have not seen any hints or indications from the North Koreans that they are willing to come back to the Six-Party Talks in a format that we would find remotely satisfactory," said L. Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mansfield Foundation, a think tank focused on northeast Asia.
Analysts say the Obama administration wants to simply shore up consensus among allies, another casualty of the Hill era, and put the onus back on the North Koreans to do something productive. Sending Bosworth and his delegation is meant to make it clear that America is not the obstacle to progress.
Obama had hugely productive meetings with South Korean President Lee Myung bak during his recent Asia trip, White House officials have noted, with Seoul and Washington on the same page as to how to deal with the North for the first time in a long while.
Bosworth was in Seoul today, and many observers see the spade work he has been doing to firm up positions with allies behind the scenes as the real deliverables of Obama's North Korea policy thus far.
"That's been the whole point of everything they've done publicly, to keep the expectations low and to keep low visibility on this," said former North Korea nuclear negotiator Joel Wit, adding, "I think that's the right approach."
LEE JIN-MAN/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama today nominated of Philip Coyle, a leading critic of Bush administration missile defense schemes, to be a top White House scientific advisor.
Coyle, who was the head weapons tester at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, was nominated to become the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. There he will lead a team tasked with giving scientific advice to Obama on a range of national security issues and will report to Director John Holdren.
Since his last tour at the Pentagon, Coyle has been a leading analyst on weapons systems for the Center for Defense Information, a component of the World Security Institute, a defense-minded think thank. From that perch, he's been actively involved in several of the national security debates involving advanced technology and a staunch watchdog on the missile defense system the Bush administration rushed to deploy throughout its tenure.
Coyle has often pointed out that the testing done by the Pentagon on ballistic missile defense components since 2001 has been either shoddy or thin. Moreover, he has repeatedly questioned the basic rationale for investing billions to deploy ballistic missile defense around the world, especially in Eastern Europe.
"In my view, Iran is not so suicidal as to attack Europe or the United States with missiles," he testified before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee in February, "But if you believe that Iran is bound and determined to attack Europe or America, no matter what, then I think you also have to assume that Iran would do whatever it takes to overwhelm our missile defenses, including using decoys to fool the defenses, launching stealthy warheads, and launching many missiles, not just one or two."
Coyle has often argued that the Bush administration rushed to deploy missile defense systems around the world to build momentum and keep money flowing into the program. He has repeatedly said that the Missile Defense Agency has been amassing hardware that is either not aligned with the threat or can't be relied on in case of an actual emergency.
Over $120 billion has been spent on ballistic missile defense since its inception during the Reagan administration.
Coyle's views line up with Ellen Tauscher, who was then the subcommittee chairwoman but who is now Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, which oversees missile defense diplomacy.
Tauscher was part of the decision making process that led to huge changes in the Bush administration plans for missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Obama plan now calls for more short and medium range systems, most of them mobile. These are changes Coyle has also supported.
Coyle must now be confirmed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The vetting and confirmation process could take months.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave what was touted as a "major speech" on nonproliferation issues today at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. And while Clinton has been somewhat overshadowed in today's headlines by the clutch diplomacy of Senator John Kerry in Afghanistan and Vice President Joseph Biden's meetings with European leaders, her speech on a range of strategic issues had several interesting morsels. Here are the key sections:
On North Korea:
Within the framework of the six-party talks, we are prepared to meet bilaterally with North Korea. But North Korea's return to the negotiating table is not enough.
Current sanctions will not be relaxed until Pyongyang takes verifiable, irreversible steps toward complete denuclearization. Its leaders should be under no illusion that the United States will ever have normal, sanctions-free relations with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
If Iran is serious about taking practical steps to address the international community's deep concerns about its nuclear program, we will continue to engage both multilaterally and bilaterally to discuss the full range of issues that have divided Iran and the United States for too long.
The door is open to a better future for Iran. But the process of engagement cannot be open-ended. We are not prepared to talk just for the sake of talking. As President Obama noted after the October 1st meeting in Geneva, we appear to have made a constructive beginning. But that needs to be followed up by constructive actions.
In particular, prompt action is needed on implementing the plan to use Iran's own low-enriched uranium to refuel the Tehran research reactor, which is used to produce medical isotopes.
On the International Atomic Energy Agency:
Enhancing the IAEA's capabilities to verify whether states are engaging in illicit nuclear activity is essential to strengthening the nonproliferation regime. The IAEA's additional protocol, which allows for more aggressive, short-notice inspections, should be made universal through concerted efforts to persuade key holdout states to join.
The IAEA should make full use of existing verification authorities, including special inspections. But it should also be given new authorities, including the ability to investigate suspected nuclear-weapons-related activities, even when no nuclear materials are present. And if we expect the IAEA to be a bulwark of the nonproliferation regime, we must give it the resources necessary to do the job.
On nuclear negotiations with Russia:
The United States is interested in a new START agreement because it will bolster our national security. We and Russia deploy far more nuclear weapons than we need or could ever potentially use without destroying our ways of life.
Clinging to nuclear weapons in excess of our security needs does not make the United States safer. And the nuclear status quo is neither desirable nor sustainable. It gives other countries the motivation or the excuse to pursue their own nuclear options.
We are under no illusions that this START agreement will persuade Iran and North Korea to end their illicit nuclear activities; but it will demonstrate that the United States is living up to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation to work toward nuclear disarmament. In doing so, it will help convince the rest of the international community to strengthen nonproliferation controls and tighten the screws on states that flout their nonproliferation commitments.
On the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty:
A test-ban treaty that has entered into force will allow the United States and others to challenge states engaged in suspicious testing activities, including the option of calling on-site inspections to be sure that no testing occurs anywhere.
CTBT ratification would also encourage the international community to move forward with other essential nonproliferation steps. And make no mistake. Other states rightly or wrongly view American ratification of the CTBT as a sign of our commitment to the nonproliferation consensus.
We are well aware that we have our work cut out for us. The CTBT was rejected 10 years ago, and it has not been brought up since then. So we do have a lot of outreach and very intensive consultations to engage in with the Senate. I think that -- having been honored to serve in the Senate, I think every senator has a right to ask whatever questions and raise whatever concerns he or she might have.
But the fact is, we've essentially had a moratorium on testing. It's been bipartisan through these four administrations over these last 20 years. And we recognize the legitimate questions that some in the Senate have posed about how we take steps to ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of our nuclear stockpile without testing. We believe we have technical answers to that and that we will be discussing those in greater depth.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
As the United States gets closer to finalizing a nuclear-cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates, one man is emerging as the poster child for critics who fear that the UAE could just become a better conduit for smuggling sensitive technology to Iran if the agreement goes through.
Saud al-Qasimi is the crown prince in control of the UAE port of Ras al-Khaimah, the site of the upcoming America's Cup race. Increasingly, it has also become the preferred distribution point for Iranian smugglers wishing to avoid the more closely watched ports in Dubai, George Webb, the head of the Canada Border Services Agency's Counter Proliferation Section, told Canada's National Post:
While nominally in the U.A.E., the port is controlled by Iran and is situated just across the Gulf from Bandar Abbas, an Iranian city with a naval base and an airport capable of landing large transport planes.
"Ras al-Khaimah is actually leased by the Iranian government, staffed by Iranian customs," Mr. Webb said, as he examined a classified satellite photo of the port.
"We found out about it about six months ago and this is just a little hop, skip and a jump over to a significant airstrip. So if they boat it over, it goes in the plane, it's in Tehran real quick."
He said his officers had been finding materials in Canada that were destined for Ras al-Khaimah but customs inspectors are now on the lookout. "All of our people in those ports are aware, so as soon as they see it, it's hauled aside for examination and follow up."
The region's former ruler, Khalid al-Qasimi, wrote in a letter sent to U.S. lawmakers last week that "The supportive posture [RAK] takes toward the Islamic Republic of Iran is undermining the policies of the United States."
And as if his reputation wasn't bad enough, it was revealed yesterday that Saud al-Qasimi was arrested for sexually assaulting a housekeeper in his hotel near the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 2005. The Smoking Gun reports:
While Sheikh Saud has lauded his emirate's selection at the site for the February 2010 America's Cup as a "great moment for us," critics have raised safety concerns due to Ras al-Khaimah's proximity to Iran and the activities of al-Qaeda terrorists in the region. The American team participating in the race is backed by software billionaire Larry Ellison, co-founder and chief executive of Oracle Corporation, who has launched a court challenge seeking to have the yacht race moved to Spain."
Lawmakers are already attacking the credibility of upcoming inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, preparing their push for greater sanctions if and when the inspections fail to find a smoking gun.
The core of the argument being made by GOP senators is that the Iranians bargained for a lag time longer than the United States wanted before opening their newly discovered Qom nuclear facility to international inspectors, raising concerns that they will scrub the facility of incriminating material.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama pressed the issue with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg at a meeting of the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday morning and Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker piled on.
"Is there any question in anybody's mind that during this period of time between now and October 25 that much of the facility that we are getting ready to inspect will be dismantled?" Corker asked.
Steinberg said that the United States had wanted inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to take place within two weeks, but had to settle for the Oct. 25 inspection date, more than three and a half weeks after the Oct. 1 meeting between Iran and five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
"It's our judgment that this is still a period of time that we can still get a good assessment of what's going on," Steinberg argued, while trying to say that the IAEA team needed some time to prepare for the inspections.
The Shelby-Corker-Steinberg exchange comes only one day after Andrew Semmel, the IAEA's Washington representative, said that there was a real danger that Iran would have too much time to scrub the Qom facility before the inspectors arrived.
"It gives three weeks for the Iranians to clean up anything they might want to hide," Semmel said, "They've been known to do this in the past, whitewashing and so forth."
Semmel also said the whole IAEA inspection exercise might be "perfunctory," because it's not clear that the Qom facility had been developed yet to the stage where really incriminating material would have been stored there.
What Iran watchers are really looking for are definitive signs at Qom that Russian scientists have contributed to the Iranian nuclear program, after reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a list of Russian nuclear scientists helping Iran during his secret meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Steinberg also indicated that the administration does not support, nor does it oppose, the bill put forth by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Evan Bayh, and Jon Kyl, which would bar any refined petroleum products from being sold to Iran, saying that the administration wanted to preserve maximum flexibility.
That legislation has 75 Senate cosponsors.
ELIZABETH DALZIEL/AFP/Getty Images
(Correction: Netanyahu's title corrected to "prime minister.")
The International Atomic Energy Agency has admitted that some of the material in the now-infamous "secret annex" about Iran's nuclear program exists, but claims it wasn't verifiable enough to release, according to the organization's Washington representative.
The classified information, which was collected as part of the IAEA's annual volume on Iran but never made the final cut, claims to prove that Iran "has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device," according to reports.
The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington research organization headed by former weapons inspector David Albright, published excerpts of the omitted section, which included claims that the agency believed Iran was working on placing nuclear warheads on its Shahab-3 missile.
Andrew Semmel, the IAEA's man in DC, told a group of congressional staffers Monday that he pressed IAEA leadership for answers on the "secret annex" at the general conference in Vienna last month.
"What they're telling me is that of course there's background material ... that you have to produce a report and that report can't include everything that's been collected and surmised, so the report itself is a distillation of all that background information."
IAEA leaders decided they weren't confident in the authenticity of the information contained in the extra document, and they couldn't verify what that research had found.
"They say there is no 'secret annex' but there is 'background information', however you want to characterize that," Semmel said.
"I likened it to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. That report too, does not include everything that was collected on background," said Semmel, "It's akin to that."
He alluded to reports that different parts of the IAEA bureaucracy have been at odds with each other about how to publicly present the collected information in Iran, but declined to get into specifics.
Some very specific reporting points to a long-running dispute between the IAEA's Department of Safeguards (which advocates a harder line) and its Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination (which is more skeptical).
Outgoing IAEA chief Mohamed Elbaradei, who will come to Washington later this month, is apparently in the risk-averse camp.
National Security Advisor Jim Jones spoke this weekend about the IAEA's secret information file.
"Whether they know how to do it or not is a matter of some conjecture, but what we are watching is what is their intent and we have been worried about that intent," he said.
But even the question of Iran's intent is clearly disputed at the top levels of the Obama administration.
Semmel also told his Capitol Hill audience that the IAEA's planned Oct. 25 visit to the newly revealed Qom facility was probably too late to catch Iran in any nefarious acts.
"One has to be somewhat suspicious. It gives three weeks for the Iranians to clean up anything they might want to hide," he said, "They've been known to do this in the past, whitewashing and so forth."
As the United States touts Thursday's rare, if small diplomatic breakthrough in nuclear talks with Iran, one key component of the Obama administration's nuclear arms-control strategy remains in limbo.
Administration officials have been promising again and again to work toward ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the 1996 agreement that prohibits any nuclear-weapons testing and has been ratified by 150 countries, but not the United States. Inside the administration, there is no clear schedule and some concerns about how and when to make the push for Senate ratification.
"The second major arms control objective of the Obama administration is the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty," Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation Rose Gottemoeller said in an August speech, affirming pledges from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to get the treaty ratified.
"There is no step that we could take that would more effectively restore our moral leadership and improve our ability to reenergize the international nonproliferation consensus than to ratify the CTBT."
America's allies see the CTBT as a litmus test of America's commitment to participate concretely in the arms-control agenda it espouses. While cognizant of the challenges Obama faces on the issue domestically, they nonetheless will judge his success or failure on the issue as an indicator of whether the administration can actually implement its progressive rhetoric.
But administration officials are acutely aware of the 1999 failure to ratify the treaty in the Senate, an ordeal that stands as a cautionary tale about approaching the CTBT without a new strategy. Moreover, if ratification seems unlikely, they could abandon the push in the near term.
"We must construct a new paradigm from the debate over this same issue in 1999. Simply put, the world has changed," Gottemoeller said.
Many Republicans in the Senate, however, don't think the basis for their opposition to CTBT has gone away and are gearing up to fight a new ratification initiative.
"All of those reasons still pertain, and then some," Senate Minority Leader Jon Kyl, R-AZ, who led the successful opposition to ratification in 1999, told The Cable.
"I will lead the charge against it and I will do everything in my power to see that it is defeated," he told Congressional Quarterly.
A senior GOP Senate aide spelled out Republicans' objections and their argument going forward.
"The Republicans will say that the risks are you can't verify the agreement, countries will be cheating, and at the end of the day, we may need to test to make sure our systems are viable," he said.
They also plan to argue that the CTBT is simply not likely to actually convince countries with nuclear aspirations to forego their plans, as the administration claims.
"If you really believe that Iran is a nuclear tipping point, what's more likely to solve that problem? Is it the U.S. ratifying CTBT or is it the U.S. finding some clever way to get Russia and China to help us deal with that problem?" the GOP aide said, "It's like a drunk trying to find their keys under the streetlamp because the light is better there."
"We're only going to do it when we are going to win"
Timing is a critical factor in the administration's push for ratification. Multiple senior officials told The Cable that Senate ratification would probably be sought after the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, which begins next April.
The White House wants to go to the NPT conference promising to complete CTBT ratification and doesn't want to risk an embarrassing failure right before the meeting. The problem is, after the conference, the congressional time window is small before members start gearing up for the 2010 election season and put these kinds of strategic issues on the backburner.
The schedule for the CTBT will depend somewhat on how fast the START follow-on treaty is ratified, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher told The Cable in an interview, adding that the administration will only propose CTBT ratification when the fight can be won.
She also alluded to the fact that Senate attention is scarce and even after the NPT it might be difficult to make a full-court press.
"How many arms-control treaty votes does the Senate have? They haven't done it in a long time. How long is it going to take for Senate Foreign Relations Committee to do hearings? Does the Senate Armed Services Committee want to do hearings?" Tauscher asked.
"We're going to do it, but we're only going to do it when we are going to win," she added.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, told The Cable in an interview that a huge effort to compile scientific and technical data to support the administration's case for ratification was already underway.
"We have a lot or work to do be in a position to sit down with people and explain how this works," he said, "I think it would hard to do it before the NPT conference, just because of the complexity of the issues and the need to do the START treaty."
Kerry met with Secretary Clinton this week to discuss the CTBT and other issues. Clinton participated in a multilateral conference on the issue on the sidelines of last week's U.N. General Assembly meetings.
Key senators to watch include Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who both voted to reject the treaty the last time around.
Vice President Joseph Biden has been given the job of shepherding the treaty through the Senate, managed in his office by Jon Wolfsthal. The State team on CTBT, in addition to Tauscher and Gottemoeller, will be dependent on Jofi Joseph, who just came over from the office of Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and who is a strong advocate of swift ratification.
The NSC's Gary Samore and the Pentagon's Ted Warner are also said to be important players in the CTBT drive.
"We'll take this autumn and into next year to make our case to the Senate about this and then we'll see how the actual ratification campaign unfolds," a senior administration official told The Cable, "But the effort has already begun."
Greg Bruno at the Council on Foreign Relations snags an interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki during his visit to Washington and Mottaki lays out the Iranian thinking on a host of issues. Below are some excerpts.
Mottaki on the talks in Geneva:
By presenting a package of proposals, we wanted to show that Iran is serious for these negotiations. We have given three topics in the proposed package and that makes it possible for all parties to enter into discussions even about the nuclear program. That also includes political and security issues, economic matters, and international cooperation. And in the international part, some matters can be dedicated to the nuclear programs and nuclear issues. We are optimistic about the talks tomorrow. Because the negotiations are taking place after a long time, we should not have much expectation. Maybe that requires formation of some committees to continue the process.
On the Iran's rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty:
We are not going to compromise our legal rights under any circumstances toward the enjoyment of legal activities. And we have no plan at the moment to withdraw from the NPT.
On allowing access to the newly revealed facility near Qom:
The date will be discussed and coordinated within the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran and the IAEA later on. They would exchange letters. So from our side, there is no problem. Any date that is agreed between the two sides would be respected and the visit or access will be exercised.
On what happened during the G-20:
We think in Pittsburgh, President Obama was misled based on wrong information and wrong analysis. The wrong analysis was provided by the British. Wrong information by certain terrorist groups ... It seems to me that President Obama should be very mindful of these issues and statements.
As the Obama administration negotiates with Russia over a new nuclear arms reduction treaty, Senate Republicans are already planning their strategy to demand maximum concessions in exchange for their potential support.
The Senate Republican Policy Committee, led by South Dakota's John Thune, shown at left, is circulating a memo (pdf) outlining the GOP strategy to deal with the "follow on" to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires December 5. According to the memo, obtained by The Cable, the Republicans have a long list of demands, some of which are unlikely to be met when the administration rolls out the new agreement.
"A treaty meeting the goals articulated in this paper is more likely to gain the two-thirds majority necessary for Senate consent," the memo explains.
The differences between administration plans and GOP demands are likely to complicate the push for ratification in the Senate, which is expected early next year.
The core strategy for the Senate Republicans will be to try to frame the nuclear reductions as a unilateral concession that President Obama is making to the Russians.
"The United States should not pay for what is free," the memo states. "Russia's nuclear numbers will decline dramatically in the coming years with or without an arms control treaty. The United States should not make important concessions in return for something that will happen in any event."
Republicans will also call on Obama to justify the arms reductions in the context of American security interests, not simply U.S.-Russia relations.
"Russia needs this agreement far more than the U.S. does. It is desperately trying to lock the U.S. into lower nuclear levels, not the other way around."
GOP senators such as minority whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, have been accusing Obama of rushing to get an agreement, a theme the strategy memo says will continue as Republicans argue that an extension of the old terms is preferable to a bad treaty.
Specifically, the memo sets three basic conditions for Republican support.
First, the new treaty should not constrain U.S. missile defenses, the GOP senators argue, nor should it impinge upon the military's plans to develop what's called "global strike" capabilities -- the ability to attack any target in the world at any time.
In a previous interview with The Cable, a senior administration official said there would be no specific treaty language on missile defense, but that some verification of conventional systems such as those used in global strike might be covered in the final version.
Secondly, Republicans are demanding the administration submit a modernization plan for the nation's nuclear stockpile at the same time as the treaty. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher has said that such a plan will be submitted in next year's budget but will not include the Bush administration's proposal for building a new type of nuclear weapon, called the Reliable Replacement Warhead.
The third condition, the one the administration won't be able to deliver to Republicans, is their call for Russian tactical nuclear weapons to be covered in the new treaty. The senior official had said that would not be part of these negotiations, but could be covered in the next treaty, what insiders are calling "the follow on to the follow on."
The administration's negotiating team, led by Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, has been traveling back and forth to Geneva to negotiate terms with the Russians.
And Tauscher is testifying today to the House Armed Services Committee on the administration's recent decision to alter missile-defense plans in Europe, a decision she maintains was also not a concession to Russia.
"Nothing that we did had anything to do with Russian saber-rattling or their consternation about the ground-based interceptors or the Czech radar. The decision was not part of any trade-off or quid pro quo," Tauscher said, adding, "If, as a consequence of President Obama's decision, relations with Russia improve, then we should embrace that benefit."
UPDATE: The Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation's Kingston Reif writes in to point out that while the GOP strategy memo quotes the Perry-Schlesinger Commission more than two dozen times, it never mentions that the group of bipartisan elders actually endorses the START follow-on process. Here's a quote from the report:
"The moment appears ripe for a renewal of arms control with Russia, and this bodes well for a continued reduction in the nuclear arsenal. The United States and Russia should pursue a step-by-step approach and take a modest first step to ensure that there is a successor to START I when it expires at the end of 2009."
FILE; Mark Wilson/Getty Images
One day ahead of talks between Iran and the Western powers, Congress is weighing in on the disclosure of Iran's newest secret nuclear facility near the city of Qom.
A bill was introduced Tuesday in the House that would call on Iran to allow "unfettered access" to the Qom enrichment facility and disclose the existence of any additional facilities under its control. The legislation is one of those non-binding items that doesn't actually force action, but its introduction with 33 cosponsors from both parties indicates the rising tide of congressional angst over the Iranian developments.
Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia was the original sponsor of the legislation. A spokesman said that a vote on the measure could come this week or next. Johnson decided to get involved in the Iran issue after hearing from constituents during a talk at the Ahavath Achim Jewish congregation in Atlanta, the spokesman said.
"My resolution... supports the administration's negotiating position in Geneva and evidences the unity of Congress and the President on this critical issue," Johnson wrote in a letter to House leadership today.
Meanwhile, Johnson had some interesting words for the Jews of Georgia's 4th district when he spoke to them on Sept. 12, pledging his support for Israel but doling out some tough love in the form of criticism of the Jewish state.
"The state of Israel makes mistakes, as does any state. It sometimes takes action that undermines its interests. Its leaders too often make policy to suit their short-term political priorities, rather than the long term interests of the Israeli people," Johnson said.
"Sometimes the ferocity with which it strikes its enemies demonstrates its tremendous capacity for self-defense; other times it undermines Israel's standing in the world and sews hatred among those who suffer at its hands."
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of today's briefing by spokesman Ian Kelly:
Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is preparing yet another maneuver in his fight to thwart any rapprochement between the United States and North Korea.
Brownback, who carries the banner for those who believe confronting the North Korean regime is preferable to engaging it, is planning to offer a new piece of legislation aimed at pressuring the State Department to put the hermitic Stalinist state back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The legislation, which he will introduce this session, aims to kick the chair out from under the State Department's official explanation as to why the administration can't relist North Korea, even though North Korea didn't live up to the bargain it struck with the Bush administration, which delisted the country in 2008.
"The administration is saying that legally they do not have the authority to [relist North Korea], but we want to give them back the authority to do it so it will be clear that this is a choice they are making," Brownback told The Cable in an interview. "This would be so they can't hide behind the lawyers."
In fact, that is State's explanation, as laid out by spokesman Ian Kelly in a May press briefing.
"In order to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, the secretary of state must determine that the government of North Korea has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. The United States will follow the provisions of the law as the facts warrant," Kelly said.
Brownback discussed his upcoming bill with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, who gave no response, Brownback said.
This is only the latest bill Brownback has offered in his mission to influence North Korea policy. He introduced a bill in July that would have reimposed sanctions and put North Korea back on the list, but this one is more "realistic," he said.
He'll try to attach his language to a bill that's already moving, but actually passing the legislation is unlikely. In the end, it's not all that important whether it passes or not.
Brownback is making a policy point and continuing his ongoing feud with the EAP Bureau at State, which included him holding up the Campbell nomination this summer.
But Brownback's fight with EAP goes back much further than Campbell. He held up the nomination of Kathleen Stephens in 2008 to become ambassador to South Korea in order to get concessions from then Assistant Secretary Chris Hill, including getting Jay Leftkowitz, the oft-ignored human rights envoy on North Korea, a seat at the table.
The Kansas senator then held up Hill's nomination to become ambassador to Iraq because Hill failed to deliver on any of the promises he made to Brownback during the Stephens affair.
Brownback makes no secret of his ultimate goal, to stop any new talks with North Korea before they start, in light of Pyongyang's saber-rattling and nuclear brinksmanship.
"Now we're going to engage with them?" he said, "Now's the time to be much more strong against them."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in June that she wants to see "recent evidence of their support for international terrorism" before she would relist them. That's not likely, because North Korea's suspected nuclear and missile exports to dictatorial regimes don't technically qualify as terrorism.
File Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The Weekly Standard is reporting that top Obama administration arms-control officials are en route to Eastern Europe right now to deliver sobering news to officials there about U.S. plans for ballistic missile defense.
Ellen O. Tauscher, the new under secretary of state for arms control and international security, and Alexander Vershbow (right), the Pentagon's assistant secretary for international security affairs, are reportedly set to meet with Polish and Czech leaders to give them the results of the administration's policy review on the matter, including their verdict on Bush administration plans to build sites in their countries.
State Department sources would neither confirm nor deny whether the officials are on the move.
President Obama has promised to overhaul the missile-defense program throughout his campaign and presidency and Tauscher led the charge in Congress to prevent construction of the European sites from commencing.
Tauscher was also the State Department's representative on the Pentagon-led interagency task force assigned to make the new recommendations.
Those recommendations were expected later this month, but the secret reported trip could be an indication that Obama himself has signed onto whatever the decision is.
In interviews with The Cable that were conducted before the news of the trip broke, two senior officials explained the administration's thinking about the missile-defense review.
"This is a recharacterization of what the threat is and how you respond to the threat," one official said, explaining that previous designs were geared toward the future threat of Iranian long-range missiles, whereas the Obama team wants to focus on the missiles Iran has now, which are short- and medium-range and can only reach Europe.
In an interview with The Cable, Tauscher herself made that argument and also said she wanted to spend more on existing technologies and less on development of futuristic systems.
"What is important is to get the priority of the threat right, current versus emerging. The point of this is to understand the threat, understand what you need to deter and defeat the threat, and what you have to deploy that's proven technology to deter and defeat the threat," said Tauscher, "You get those right, it leads you to a place."
Lawmakers are concerned that abandoning the current plan leaves new allies Poland and the Czech Republic twisting in the wind, after governments there spent so much political capital on selling the sites to their parliaments and publics.
"Whatever is done needs to be done in a way that continues our strong support for the Poles and the Czechs," said Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "That's important whatever way we decide to go."
The administration review focused on alternatives for the long-range interceptor planned for Poland, which include short-range interceptors and sea-based missiles.
A senior GOP Senate aide said that the effect of the administration's switch to short- range systems, such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), was that the program would no longer have any capability to defend the U.S. homeland and would only be able to protect parts of Europe.
"The important fact here is that if you go with the land-based SM-3s, you don't protect the United States," said the aide.
"It changes the nature of the debate," the aide continued. "Why should the U.S. spend 6 or 7 billion dollars just to protect Europe? That's going to be a completely different argument."
UPDATE: "Administration officials were expected to brief lawmakers and government officials in Poland and the Czech Republic on results of the review on Thursday," the AP reports, citing "an administration official and a congressional aide."
File Photo by CHOI WON-SUK/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday, The Cable brought you news about the Obama administration's new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. Today, we share with you a previously unreported letter (pdf) from senior House GOP lawmakers telling the president that they don't like where they see the negotiations headed.
Signed by the House Armed Services Committee's ranking Republican, Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the letter's basic point is their contention that administration officials are rushing to complete a follow on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) before the Dec. 5 deadline, which will cause them to make too many concessions to the Russians and get ahead of their own Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
The GOP leaders also refer to HASC testimony (pdf) by Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, to criticize the possibility that the Obama team might compromise too much and end up near the lower end of ranges agreed to between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in their July 8 Joint Understanding, namely 500 delivery vehicles and 1,500 deployed warheads.
"Congress has yet to learn what the administration's deterrence objectives and policies are, much less the appropriate nuclear force structure requirements that would be derived from them," the letter states.
The letter also warns that Congress (read: Republicans) would not look favorably on any restrictions in the new treaty that would limit U.S. missile defenses or conventional strike systems.
Ultimately, it will be up to the Senate to ratify any treaty, and that debate is not expected until early next year. But the House leaders will have a role in implementation, so their views also must be dealt with by Obama's staff.
A senior administration official, speaking to The Cable on background but not responding to the GOP letter, said that the administration made it an early task of the NPR to produce the analysis that would determine the requirements needed to negotiate with the Russians.
U.S. missile defenses will not be mentioned, but some U.S. conventional systems could be included in the final agreement.
"I can imagine that there may be some particular verification and transparency measures associated with non-nuclear systems," the official said.
Ellen O. Tauscher, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, told The Cable that Republicans have nothing to fear from reductions and that the goodwill of the agreement would produce positive effects worldwide.
"We still have by orders of magnitude more weapons than anybody on the planet," said Tauscher, "The United States of America has most eloquently led by example [rather] than by stamping our feet or by pressuring anybody. Leading by example is the best way of being persuasive."
If there's one point at which both the Obama administration's drive to reset U.S. relations with Russia and its stated goal to rid the world of nuclear weapons converge, it's the ongoing negotiations to produce a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in December.
To get the new agreement to a point where the Russians, and then Senate Republicans, can sign on, the administration has narrowed the scope of what the follow-on treaty will cover and made some choices about how and when it will move the process through Congress.
Senate Republicans are not completely unwilling to get behind a new nuclear reduction treaty, but they intend to bargain for concessions before supporting ratification. One key concession they will not get, though, is a revival of the Bush administration's plan to build a new class of nuclear warheads known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead, according to the State Department's top arms control official.
"I think there are a lot of people that still hope for the return of RRW and they are going to be sadly disappointed," Ellen O. Tauscher, the newly minted under secretary of state for arms control and international secretary told The Cable in her first interview after taking up her post.
In her previous role as head of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, Tauscher played a key part in beating back repeated Bush administration attempts to move forward with developing RRW, which supporters maintain is a needed hedge against the risk associated with the nation's aging stockpile of nuclear warheads.
But Tauscher has long argued, and the arms-control community agrees, that RRW is less preferable than other measures, such as refurbishing existing warheads, that could be used to modernize the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Moreover, they warn that building new warheads could set back nonproliferation efforts worldwide by creating a new arms race.
Regardless, Senate Republicans are sure to push for RRW when the new treaty comes before them, but Tauscher said the administration would hold firm, and is instead offering them a stockpile management plan that increases the confidence in existing warheads.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, who had held up Tauscher's nomination before she was ultimately confirmed on June 25, successfully added an amendment to the Senate's version of the defense authorization bill that would require the administration to submit a plan for modernization of the nuclear complex at the same time it submits a new nuclear treaty for verification.
The House's version of the bill contains language that would fund "stockpile management" for the aging warheads, and "As far as I know, the stockpile management that's in the House bill negates the need for RRW," Tauscher said.
"I think there are people who are deeply concerned about the return of RRW and I think they are going to feel pretty good about stockpile management," she declared.
An article last month in Global Security Newswire reported that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was pushing internally to have RRW funds requested in the fiscal 2011 budget, due out in February, placing him in direct odds with Vice President Joseph Biden, who is set against the program.
The report also said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was backing Gates, but State Department sources denied that Clinton had formed a set position either way.
Ultimately, the RRW program would be part of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration budget request and funds have been requested in the past as part of the Navy's research budget.
Getting to ‘Da'
The U.S. and Russian sides met in Geneva earlier this month to negotiate the START treaty's successor, with the U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller.
Obama and Putin are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh later this month, according to diplomatic sources, and Secretary Clinton will travel to Russia in October. Tauscher will either go with her or follow soon after to make the final push.
Decisions about when to seek Senate ratification will follow after that, said Tauscher, who wants to see the new agreement ratified by the start of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference at the end of April.
To bridge the time between the expiration of START and the ratification of the follow-on treaty, a "collar" will be probably be placed around the new agreement that extends the verification measures of START until the new treaty can be approved, Tauscher said.
A senior U.S. administration official, speaking on background, gave The Cable the details of what will and won't be included in the new agreement.
For example, the fraught issue of missile defense will not be discussed, although there will be a statement acknowledging the general relationship between offensive and defensive capabilities, as was alluded to in the July 8 Joint Understanding signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev, the official said.
Any discussion of Russian tactical nuclear weapons will also be left out of the new treaty, the official explained, but could be part of the next round, which insiders are calling "the follow on to the follow on."
Verification of some non-nuclear U.S. systems probably will be included in the new treaty, the official noted.
But there will be no provisions determining how each side can configure its nuclear forces within the limits, the official said, and there will be no linkage to parallel efforts to get Russia to help persuade Iran to be more cooperative over its nuclear program.
"START is in its own lane and we try to keep it there," the official said.
"Republicans can probably live with that, assuming there aren't any limitations on missile defense and conventional long-range strike systems," said one GOP Senate aide.
Still, there is a need for a savvy strategy for the administration to secure the 67 votes needed for Senate ratification, and some leaders of the arms-control community are concerned.
"There should be a coordinated effort. State, Defense, NSC, [and the] Department of Energy should be working together and having a common communications plan and a common lobbying strategy," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World, an advocacy group that favors arms control. "And that's not happening yet."
Photo of Tauscher shaking hands with Obama by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.