The Cable

Tauscher promotes new missile defense plan before trip to Europe

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher is in India today, meeting with counterparts before heading to the Czech Republic and Turkey.

She will talk missile defense in the Czech Republic and non-proliferation in Turkey, her spokesman said. The Czechs could have a new role in the administration's reformed scheme for missile defense, in light of the changes announced to the previous plan to deploy interceptors in Poland and advanced radar in the Czech Republic, what was termed the "third site." In India, Tauscher will lead a dialogue on non-proliferation.

Tauscher previewed her trip and talked about the status of missile defense plans and other strategic initiatives at the George Washington University on Tuesday. Primarily, she rejected the contention that the administration had abandoned Polish and Czech missile defense plans. Both countries have been offered alternative ways to participate in missile defense going forward, she said.

"We didn't abandon the third site," Tauscher said. "We already have two sites that protect the United States from the emerging Iranian long-range threat," she added, referring to existing sites in California and Alaska.

Aegis ships with SM-3 missiles will be deployed in the Mediterranean Sea and will be able to protect southern Europe by 2011, with land based SM-3 missiles "in a NATO-ized system" by 2015.

"The idea of putting a third site with a redundant capability in Poland to protect us against a threat that wasn't emerging as we expected, and have us naked now [to shorter range threats]... I thought it was crazy."

Back at home, Tauscher is preparing for two major efforts, to get the Senate to ratify follow on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) treaty and to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Both pushes are slated for early next year.

She expressed confidence that the administration would be able to secure a START follow on by the time the current treaty expires on December 5. Negotiations with the Russians in Geneva are being led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller and are ongoing.

Senate Republicans have been somewhat open to supporting a START follow on, if certain concessions are met, but on CTBT leading GOP lawmakers such as Jon Kyl, R-AZ, are promising a fight.

"The CTBT will be very difficult to ratify. The opposition still remembers why they opposed it back in 1999, some of them are still in the Senate," she said, "And we still have a lot of people that don't know why they would be for it because there are 40 senators that have never voted on a treaty."

She said there is a "grand bargain" to be struck with regard to CTBT, which will include reassuring people that the nuclear arsenal is safe and secure even without testing. The Nuclear Posture Review will come out in January or February, she said, and the fiscal 2011 budget will come out around the same time.

Tauscher reiterated that the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a Bush administration program to build a new class of nuclear weapons, would not be in the 2011 budget. She said the Bush administration did a poor job explaining the program, giving the wrong impression to other countries.

"We had to kill it to save it," she said, explaining that it will be replaced with a nuclear stockpile modernization program, which will increase reliability and confidence in the current stock of warheads.

The Cable

Eikenberry's awkward White House call (Retracted)

Spencer Ackerman gets the details of an apparently uncomfortable conference call this morning between National Security Council staffers and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, whose confidential cables calling for caution in increasing troop levels in Afghanistan were leaked to the Washington Post.

It was a tense videoconference this morning at the White House, as Ambassador Karl Eikenberry addressed the National Security Council from Kabul just hours after the media got hold of his dissent on the crucial question of sending more troops to Afghanistan. "He is very unpopular here," said a National Security Council staffer.

No one was happy to read in The Washington Post that Eikenberry, who commanded the war himself from 2005 to 2007, thinks that the Karzai government needs to demonstrate its commitment to anti-corruption measures before the administration can responsibly authorize another troop increase. The prevailing theory is that "he leaked his own cables" because "he has a beef with McChrystal," the staffer said. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Eikenberry's successor as NATO commander in Afghanistan, has requested an increase in troops to support a counterinsurgency strategy with a substantial counterterrorism component.

But Eikenberry - who also briefed the White House by teleconference yesterday - reiterated his concerns. The ambassador told the NSC not to send additional troops to Afghanistan "without an exit strategy" and urged that the president to adopt a "purely civilian approach" with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the lead, not the military...

Despite the dissatisfaction with Eikenberry's apparent leak, according to the staffer, Obama "demanded" an exit strategy for the war "after Eikenberry's cables." Certain members of the NSC dialed into the conference from the Fort Bragg, N.C. headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is playing a large if underreported role in shaping Afghanistan strategy. It would appear that much remains fluid in the administration's strategy debates.

Update:  Ackerman retracts:

I am retracting this post, published yesterday, titled “Inside This Morning’s White House Afghanistan Meeting: Anger With Eikenberry, ‘Beef’ With McChrystal.”

My original source for the post stands by the account provided. The individual, a National Security Council staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity, has provided truthful and verified information on past stories, and so I trusted the source for this one. Elements of the account have been subsequently borne out: yesterday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama will ask his Afghanistan-Pakistan advisers to provide him with an exit strategy for the eight-year war, which is congruent with but not identical to my source’s information that Obama has asked the team to derive timetables for troop withdrawal.

But there are greater problems with the post. For one, the source was not actually present for the video teleconference that is the post’s central scene, and passed information to me second-hand. Furthermore, not only has the White House’s Tommy Vietor denied, on the record, that Ambassador Karl Eikenberry participated in a video teleconference yesterday morning, but the other two individuals I named as being present for the meeting — the inspector generals for Iraq and Afghanistan — have, through representatives, denied being present. I cannot subsequently stand by this account.