The Cable

U.S. and Russia agree on missile-defense workaround for new nuke treaty

American and Russian negotiators have come to terms on how to handle the thorniest point of contention inside the negotiations over a new nuclear arms-reduction treaty: missile defense.

Russia had been stalling the last stage of the negotiations over the issue, holding fast to its position that missile defense must be included in some way in the new treaty. The U.S. side has insisted the treaty be confined only to offensive systems. Meanwhile, the old agreement, known as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), expired last December and U.S. President Barack Obama has been pushing to complete the new deal before some 44 world leaders come to Washington for a major nuclear conference beginning April 12.

Washington was abuzz Wednesday after the New York Times reported there had been a "breakthrough" in the talks, but the Times never disclosed what the breakthrough was. The Cable got the details in an exclusive interview with Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, who met with Obama along with committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, Wednesday morning.

"Missile defense will not be part of the treaty, but in the preamble both parties will state their positions and there will be a mention of offense and defense and the importance of those," Lugar said. He added that because the missile-defense statements were outside the main text, "they are in essence editorial opinions."

That closely tracks the original understanding that Obama and Medvedev agreed upon during their July meeting in Moscow, as enshrined in the Joint Understanding they issued at the time.

There are still some final details to be worked out, Lugar said, but the president believes there will be a final deal to sign "within the next few days."

"The president thinks we are very close to an agreement. He hopes to have a signing with President Medvedev April 8 in Prague," Lugar said.

Several GOP senators have warned that any reference to missile defense, even if not in the actual text of the agreement, would pose problems for the treaty's ratification.

"That's still not going to be acceptable to a lot of senators," said one senior GOP senate aide close to the issue, reacting to Lugar's comments. "How do senators know that's not going to be used against a future administration by the Russians?"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, wrote to Obama March 15 to drive home just that point.

"As you know, it is highly unlikely that the Senate would ratify a treaty that includes such a linkage, including a treaty that includes unilateral declarations that the Russian Federation could use as leverage against you or your successors as missile defense decisions are made," they wrote.

Regardless, the breakthrough signals that a deal is pending and the White House feels confident the deal can be defended on Capitol Hill.

So how did it all happen behind the scenes? We've got that for you too.

Following a contentious phone call with Medvedev earlier this month, Obama realized that the two sides were still far apart. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher was dispatched to Geneva to aid Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller and the breakthrough followed soon after.

The breakthrough was then ratified with another, so far unreported call between Obama and Medvedev, according to two administration sources.

One administration source credited Tauscher with the success, but Lugar also credited National Security Advisor Jim Jones's efforts and Obama's personal intervention in the issue as being "very helpful."

Lugar said that there would be extensive briefings of senators to explain the details and build confidence in the treaty before a push for ratification. He said he intends to support the agreement and hearings could begin in May.

The Cable

From Gitmo with love: How a detainee release happens

Three former prisoners who had been held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, yesterday to begin their new lives. The Cable takes you behind the scenes to explain how the deal got done and what these guys have to look forward to, besides their long-awaited freedom.

The process of organizing their emigration started last fall, when Amb. Dan Fried, the special envoy tasked with resettling Guantánamo prisoners, visited Georgia. He asked Georgian officials to consider taking Guantánamo prisoners and set up a visit for the Georgians to visit the facility in Cuba, which they did in December.

The Georgians met with several detainees at the base, reviewed their medical and psychological records, and spoke with them about what their life in Georgia would be like. In the end, there were several offers extended to prisoners who had been cleared for release, and three accepted.

After that, the Georgians started making preparations. They set up houses for their new guests, fully furnished, and recruited interpreters to help them get acclimated to their new surroundings and to teach them the Georgian language.

When the three arrived yesterday on a U.S. government plane, their new lives had all but been set up for them. U.S. officials handed them over to the Georgian police, who took them to the separate houses already prepared for them.

"All of their needs will be met," said Shota Utiashvili, the head of the Georgian Interior Ministry's analytics department, which was heavily involved in the arrangements. "Hopefully after they learn a little bit of Georgian they will be able to find jobs."

It's worth noting that the American side never declared the former prisoners as innocent, nor have they been convicted of any crime despite being imprisoned for years. Their official status is "No Longer Enemy Combatant" and U.S. officials have determined they do not pose a "continuing" security threat.

Based on that determination, they will have full freedom of movement in Georgia, able to go anywhere at any time, so long as they stay within the country's borders. Their families can come to Georgia to visit them, but they can't go back to their home countries.

"They will have freedom inside the country but not abroad," Utiashvili said, adding that there would be continued interactions with Georgian officials, but not 24-hour monitoring. "We will make sure they are safe on the one hand and make sure that they don't become a security threat at the same time," he said.

When asked why Georgia would take the risk of housing potentially dangerous and likely embittered former prisoners, Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria said, "We have strategic partnership with the United States and this is one part of that cooperation."

The United States didn't give Georgia anything in exchange for accepting the prisoners and the Georgians didn't ask for anything, according to Bokeria, who emphasized that Georgia doesn't see its new residents as a security risk but will be keeping an eye on them nonetheless.

"We consider this the normal behavior of an ally," he said.

The Miami Herald reported that two of the three men were Libyans and one was Abdel Hamid al Ghazzawi, 47, who ran a small shop in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, before he was handed over to U.S. forces in 2001.

Georgia now joins Switzerland, Spain, Bermuda, and Palau as countries that have accepted released detainees. There are now 185 prisoners left at the base in Cuba, still awaiting their fate.