The initial draft resolution to ratify the new START nuclear reductions treaty circulated by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry is already facing widespread Republican criticism. Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's ranking Republican, is moving quickly to address complaints about the resolution and suggest compromise language that could win some Republican support for the treaty.
The Cable obtained a copy of Kerry's draft resolution (PDF), which he circulated on Sept. 3 to all committee members without Lugar's explicit endorsement. Lugar, who is the key Republican leader spearheading the drive to ratify the treaty, will submit a substitute resolution at the committee's Sept. 16 meeting that includes several changes to Kerry's language, in the hope of securing the votes of additional GOP senators he believes would oppose Kerry's version.
Multiple GOP Senate aides close to the issue told The Cable they found the Kerry language unacceptable on a number of issues, including how it dealt with missile defense, tactical nuclear weapons, counting rules for warheads, and the sharing of telemetry data. "There are a lot of concerns raised that the Kerry draft didn't answer," one senior GOP aide said.
Kerry's staff told The Cable that his draft is meant to be a starting point to negotiations. The letter accompanying the draft invites committee members to put forth their own ideas in advance of the vote. Kerry's office maintains this is the normal procedure for getting a resolution ready.
Kerry and Lugar "are working on a resolution that will engender bipartisan support," said committee spokesman Frederick Jones. "Committee members are continuing to provide input on this resolution and this is an ongoing process. We're in the process of building consensus."
Lugar's office confirmed that the senator will offer a substitute amendment, which he will circulate next Monday. This will be one of several amendments that committee members will put forth. "The Kerry draft was intended to be a framework to get us started," said Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher.
As these negotiations illustrate, Lugar has become the pivotal figure in the START debate. He appears torn between his heartfelt desire to see the treaty enacted and his need to maintain his role as the bridge between Senate Democrats and the Obama administration, and the GOP senators the administration needs to get the 67 ratification votes necessary for the resolution to pass.
Lugar has been sending out letters to various GOP offices asking them for input as to what the treaty resolution would have to include to win their approval. Aides said the top targets for Lugar right now are Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isaacson (R-GA), who remain concerned that the Obama administration has not yet sufficiently assured them that it will commit to robust investment in the modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
After Corker and Isaacson, the hunt for GOP committee votes gets tougher. Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), are solid no votes. The remaining three Republican committee members are seen by Lugar and the administration as more difficult to get.
Lugar continues to project optimism about the treaty, telling C-Span recently he is confident that a "large majority" of Republicans will end up voting in favor of new START. But his increased involvement at this stage may also show frustration with the process. At last month's committee meeting, he openly criticized Kerry's decision to delay the vote and expressed a desire to put members to a decision sooner rather than later.
On the substance of Kerry's draft, aides from multiple GOP Senate offices said it didn't go far enough to meet their concerns on several issues.
Regarding missile defense, for example, the resolution says that the new START treaty "will not impede any missile defense deployments that are currently planned or might be required during the life of the Treaty, and it is therefore fully consistent with United States policy as established by the National Missile Defense Act of 1999."
Regarding Russia's threat to withdraw from the treaty if U.S. missile defense advancements upset the strategic balance between the two countries, the resolution says, "The unilateral statement issued by the Russian Federation on missile defense does not impose a legal obligation on the United States and will have no practical impact."
Some GOP offices are calling for more aggressive language, such as a pledge not to include missile defense as part of the agenda of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) being set up between the United States and Russia to discuss details of treaty implementation.
Regardless, it seems now that Lugar's amendment will be the center of gravity in the negotiations over the resolutions language, because it has the best chance of getting GOP committee votes.
"They want some Republicans other than Lugar," one GOP aide said, referring to Kerry and the administration. "So, the resolution Lugar writes has to be good enough to get at least Corker."
After the committee approves the resolution, it goes to the full Senate, where Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), is the leader many Republicans will be looking to for guidance. Kyl and Lugar haven't always seen eye to eye on the treaty, but Kyl has been in close consultation with Vice President Joseph Biden on the issue, calling and meeting with him while denying strenuously that he is "negotiating" specific items with the administration.
Whether Kyl can be convinced to support the treaty and whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will allot precious floor time in September to debate it are the looming and unanswerable questions hanging over the treaty following next week's committee vote.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting to vote on the START treaty resolution will be held on Thursday, Sept. 16 at 9:30 AM in the Capitol building.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.