The Cable

GOP senator holds up key Obama nuke envoy

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."

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