The Cable

Will Senate Republicans support the new U.S.-Russia nuke treaty?

Now that President Obama has announced the completion of a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, the main question becomes: Will Senate Republicans support it?

If the most recent letter  from Senate GOP leadership is any indication, not very likely. The letter written by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ. and obtained exclusively by The Cable, makes it clear that they don't view the compromise the administration reached on missile defense for the new treaty as acceptable.

The details of the missile defense language in the treaty weren't in any of the speeches or releases the White House put out on Friday, but The Cable got all the info from Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, on Wednesday, who got them from Obama himself. The treaty text won't include any reference to missile defense, but both sides will express their "opinions" about the linkage between the treaty and missile defense in the preamble, Lugar said.

That is almost exactly the original understanding that Obama and Medvedev agreed upon during their July meeting in Moscow and enshrined in the joint understanding they issued at the time. The administration can rightly claim a victory on this point, having held firm against Russian attempts to put the language in the actual text.

But that still might not be enough to satisfy Republicans on the Hill.

"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," wrote McConnell and Kyl.

Kyl has been saying similar things for months, but the addition of McConnell signals that this could become the official GOP position. Informed administration sources said they don't believe that McConnell has yet made a decision on whether or not to try to jam up the treaty as part of his overall drive to thwart any successes for the Obama presidency.

So bottom line, the jury is still out.

The administration's argument on the point is clear. "The Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs or current or planned United States long-range conventional strike capabilities," a White House fact sheet reads.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton diplomatically avoided a direct question about missile defense at this morning's briefing.

"We're focused on ratification, we're going to engage deeply and broadly with all members of the Senate," she said. "We're confident we'll be able to make the case for ratification."

She also pointed out that almost all previous arms reductions treaty garnered overwhelming support in the Senate. "There should be very broad, bipartisan support," Clinton said.

Gates said the United States will continue to engage Russia to try to make them a "participant" in the U.S. missile defense scheme in Europe.

Lugar intends to support the treaty and said he hopes the extensive congressional consultations and hearings will bring reluctant Republicans along. But he also said he doesn't expect a Senate vote on the new START agreement until after the August congressional recess, which means probably not until after the elections, when even more GOP votes could be present.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-MA, released a statement this morning pleading for bipartisan support:

"I know there has been a partisan breakdown in recent years, but we can renew the Senate's bipartisan tradition on arms control and approve ratification of this new treaty in 2010. I know that can happen. This is a moment for statesmanship. As soon as the President sends the agreement to the Senate, we will appeal to all our colleagues to set aside preconceptions and partisanship and consider the treaty on its merits. We can't squander this opportunity to reset both our relations with Russia and our role as the world leader on nuclear nonproliferation. This is a major commitment by both countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals and an important step in solidifying our relationship with Russia. Let's get it done."

As reported here before, Obama and Russian President Medvedev will meet April 8 in Prague to sign the new treaty. For more "key facts" about the agreement, read this.

The Cable

Clinton and Gates on Capitol Hill as Obama asks for Haiti money

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are testifying today about their request for new supplemental funding. A portion of this funding designated for the  reconstruction of Haiti was sent to Congress on Wednesday.

President Obama sent Congress a request for an addition $2.8 billion to reimburse federal agencies for their outlays in the wake of Haiti's Januray earthquake and to provide for a few more months of recovery and reconstruction support there. $1.6 billion of that total is designated to go to State and USAID.

The rest of the funds would be spread around Washington, with significant totals going to the Defense Department ($655 million), the Treasury Department ($220 million), Health and Human Services ($220 million), the Department of Agriculture ($150 million), and the Department of Homeland Security ($60 million).

According to a State-USAID fact sheet obtained by The Cable, the World Bank has determined that $11.5 billion will be needed for Haiti's reconstruction. A U.N. donors conference is set for March 31 in New York. About $500 million, or one third, of the Haiti supplemental request for State and USAID will go to reimburse those agencies for money already spent, according to the fact sheet.

A spokesman for the House Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee said that the schedule for moving the aid is still undetermined, pending a decision by House leadership and appropriations chairman David Obey, D-WI.

Haitian President Rene Preval had asked for direct budget support (a black check) when he was in Washington earlier this month, but that's not really the way the U.S. provides foreign aid except in rare circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is getting ready to introduce legislation that would set the legal framework for aid to Haiti over the next several years to help it rebuild its economy.

"It lays out a policy framework and delineates key strategic objectives that would guide, in partnership with the Haitian government, how resources will be spent," said committee spokesperson Frederick Jones. That bill will pave the way for aid related to governance, security, urban development, agricultural development, environmental sustainability, health systems, education, and disability assistance, he said.

The Senate bill would also mandate a new position for someone to oversee all policy for Haiti (wasn't Rajiv Shah doing that?) and will surface following the next Congressional recess.

"It puts in place appropriate accountability measures so Congress and the public can transparently know where money is going and what progress has been achieved," Jones said.

Former President George W. Bush has already wiped his hands of the Haiti issue, it seems.