The Cable

Clinton confident on ratification of New START

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is confident the Senate will President Obama's strategic nuclear treaty with Russia shortly after the August congressional recess, she said Wednesday morning.

Following a meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, she said the administration had reassured skeptical senators about their concerns over what the treaty means for missile defense, investment in "nuclear modernization," and verification.

"This treaty in no way will constrain our ability to modernize our nuclear enterprise or develop and deploy the most effective missile defenses for the sake of our security and for our allies and friends," she said.

She also touted the administration's $80 billion proposal for modernizing the nuclear weapons complex, a huge increase in such funding but short of what some GOP senators are calling for.

Clinton took a page from the book of committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, who said last week that the quick ratification of the treaty, known as New START, is a national-security imperative because all monitoring of Russian nuclear activities stopped when the last treaty expired last December.

"There is an urgency to ratify this treaty because we currently lack verification measures with Russia, which only hurts our national security interests," she said. "Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia's nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty. As time passes, uncertainty will only increase. Ratifying the New START treaty will prevent that outcome."

Although Clinton said all of the senators' questions were being answered, one sticking point is likely to remain even after the recess ends. Several GOP senators are demanding the administration give them the entire negotiating record for New START. The administration has provided a summary, but has indicated several times that it has no intention of handing over the full record.

The administration argues that even though negotiating records have been provided in the past in certain cases, doing so hurts their ability to hold private negotiations with foreign governments in the future.

"It is surprising to see so many former senators in an administration who believe the Senate is a rubber stamp," one senior GOP aide told The Cable. "Until the administration sends up the negotiating record, it is clear that we have not yet reached the end of the beginning of this process."

Kerry has promised a committee vote on the treaty will be held Sept. 15 or 16.

Clinton's full remarks after the jump:

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON

STATEMENT ON START TREATY STATUS

WASHINGTON, DC

AUGUST 11, 2010

Good morning. I am pleased to be here with Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller and Assistant Secretary Rich Verma to update you on the START ratification process.

Next month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will bring the new START treaty one step closer to ratification. Last week I was pleased to meet with Senator Kerry to discuss the committee's schedule for consideration of the treaty on September 15th or 16th and in the full Senate soon after. The chairman and Senator Lugar have constructed a good plan, and I am confident about the prospects for ratification.

In the weeks and months since the treaty was submitted to the Senate, it has earned bipartisan support from senators on both sides of the aisle as well as statesmen in and out of government - from both parties. They understand that once the new START treaty is ratified and enters into force, it will advance our national security and provide stability and predictability between the world's two leading nuclear powers.

We have worked closely with the Senate throughout this process. We welcomed senators to Geneva to observe the negotiations. The Senate has held 18 hearings, along with three classified briefings on the treaty. In the wake of the hearings, we are providing them with answers to nearly 800 questions.

There is a lot of material for senators to review during this break, and we are working to resolve any outstanding questions they might have. We have already addressed several key issues, reassuring those who had had questions on such issues as missile defense, investment in the nuclear complex, and verification.

This treaty will verifiably limit the strategic nuclear forces of Russia and the United States and will establish equal limits on both countries' strategic warheads, delivery vehicles, and launchers.

This treaty will provide for inspections we would not otherwise be able to make. For 15 years, START provided us access to monitor and inspect Russia's nuclear arsenal. START, as you know, expired last December. It has been more than eight months since we have had inspectors on the ground in Russia. This is a critical point. Opposing ratification means opposing the inspections that provide a vital window into Russia's arsenal.

This treaty in no way will constrain our ability to modernize our nuclear enterprise or develop and deploy the most effective missile defenses for the sake of our security and for our allies and friends.

With respect to our nation's nuclear complex, Secretary of Energy Chu, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Tom D'Agostino, and the directors of our nation's three national laboratories have all testified that nothing in the treaty will affect our ability to modernize our nuclear complex and maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. 

In fact, the President's budget request for the next fiscal year represents a 13 percent increase for weapons activities and infrastructure. Over the next decade we are asking for an $80 billion investment in our nuclear security enterprise. Linton Brooks, the head of President Bush's national security complex, has applauded our budget and commitment to nuclear modernization.

And seven former commanders of U.S. nuclear strategic planning have endorsed the New START treaty and recommended early approval by the U.S. Senate.

President Bush began this process more than two years ago with broad, bipartisan agreement that a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was imperative for the peace and security of our world. The Obama administration has followed through with painstaking negotiations to finalize an agreement that lives up to this high standard and makes concrete steps to reduce the threat of strategic arms. 

This treaty is another step in the process of bilateral nuclear reductions initiated by President Reagan and supported overwhelmingly by both Republican and Democratic Presidents alike. And in every instance, the Senate has ratified such treaties with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The chairman's decision to give members of both sides of the aisle additional time to review the underlying materials, but set a committee vote for the middle of September, is a gesture of good faith and underscores the tradition of bipartisan support. 

But when the Senate returns, they must act, because our national security is at risk. There is an urgency to ratify this treaty because we currently lack verification measures with Russia, which only hurts our national security interests. Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia's nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty. As time passes, uncertainty will only increase. Ratifying the New START treaty will prevent that outcome.

So next month I look forward to working with members of the Senate, especially Senators Kerry and Lugar, to move the treaty out of committee and on to consideration by the full Senate.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Ground Zero mosque, Lebanon, Pakistan, Moscow, Wikileaks

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Imam Faisal Rauf, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque, will be traveling on a U.S. government sponsored excursion to the Middle East, including stops in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. He will discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance," Crowley said. The trip is organized by the State Department's International Information Programs bureau and will not include any fundraising. This is his third trip with the State Department; the first one was in 2007 under the George W. Bush administration. "So we have a long-term relationship with him," said Crowley. "His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known, and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it's like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States."
  • Crowley defended that the State Department posted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's impassioned defense of the mosque despite that the White House has said it should remain a local issue. "It's not normal that the federal government would get involved in what is I think a zoning issue in New York City," he said. "We are obviously supportive of religious tolerance, not only around the world but in the United States."
  • Crowley said the article was posted on America.gov, which is aimed at foreign audiences, rather than State.gov, which is aimed at U.S. web surfers, to avoid violating the Smith-Mundt act, which prohibits State from spreading propaganda inside American borders. "As part of our efforts to help people understand a vigorous debate that is going on, within New York and around the country, we posted Mayor Bloomberg's remarks on america.gov, which is our website that is geared primarily to helping people overseas understand views on important issues here in the country," he said. The administration still has no official position on the mosque, he added.
  • Crowley defended ongoing U.S. assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which has apparently been held up by Congressman Howard Berman, D-CA and Congresswoman Nita Lowey, D-NY because of concerns the LAF is working with Hizbollah. "We continue to believe that supporting the Lebanese government and the Lebanese army or military is in our national interest. It contributes to stability in the region," he said. A State Department official told The Cable that he expects the holds to be released after State works with Congress on the issue.
  • Referring to the border clash last week with Israel, Crowley added, "We have no indications that our training programs were in any way implicated in what happened." As for whether Hizbollah infiltration of the Lebanese army was a reason not to continue military support, he said, "It's not a reason to be concerned; it's a reason actually to work constructively with the Lebanese government to try to reduce the impact that a group like Hezbollah can have."
  • The State Department announced $20 million more in aid to Pakistan to help with the ever expanding damage caused by floods there. The floods are also affecting India and a team of embassy officials have been dispatched to the city of Leh from New Delhi to assist there. For the most recent update on what the U.S. government is doing to help, go here.
  • State is also helping out Russia during their heat and fire crisis, dispatching a team from the U.S. Forest Disaster Assistance Support Program, but State only gave $50,000 to Russia on that issue. State issued another travel warning Tuesday, stating that the fires "have produced hazardous levels of air pollution and caused numerous flight delays and cancellations in Moscow." Non-essential embassy staff have been given permission to leave the country.
  •  No confirmation on the report that the U.S. is pushing other countries to open prosecutions against Wikileaks, following the disclosure of 70,000 Afghanistan war documents and threats coming from the Pentagon. "Obviously, it is something that's cropped up in different conversations that we've had. Citing one, the secretary's call last week with President Karzai, they did talk about WikiLeaks and she asked the president what his perspective on it was," Crowley said.
  • State Department officials also met with RIM officials yesterday afternoon to discuss the blackberry ban in the UAE, but they did not get into the specifics of their ongoing negotiations, Crowley said.