The Cable

Kerry's draft resolution on New START already facing Hill pushback

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.

Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

The Cable

NATO chief: Please don’t burn the Quran in Florida

A Florida group's plan to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11 could hurt the international mission in Afghanistan and put allied troops at risk, the head of NATO said Tuesday.

"I strongly condemn that. I think it's a disrespectful action and in general I really urge people to respect other people's faith and behave respectfully. I think such actions are in strong contradiction with all the values we stand for and fight for," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "Of course, there is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on the security for our troops."

Rasmussen's comments came just one day after Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus issued a statement criticizing the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, which plans to burn copies of Islam's holy book for 10 reasons they explain on their website.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Petraeus said.

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the head of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, told CNN that the issue was already a hot topic of discussion among Afghans and said, "We very much feel that this can jeopardize the safety of our men and women that are serving over here in the country."

The Associated Press reported that hundreds of Muslims in Kabul have already rioted in protest of the planned Koran burning.

Rasmussen is in Washington to meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the White House Tuesday afternoon. Topping the agenda are metrics for assessing progress in Afghanistan, as well as preparations for the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon in November.

In a wide-ranging discussion with reporters, Rasmussen expressed guarded optimism about the progress of the war in Afghanistan, where about 40,000 NATO troops are fighting alongside American soldiers and marines.

Rasmussen said he agreed with President Obama's decision to begin the transition of authority over security matters from allied forces to the Afghan government, including troop withdrawals, in July 2011. He said the pace of withdrawals were to be determined by conditions on the ground, and that the goal was to complete the transition by the end of 2014.

"I can tell you when it will begin, I can tell you when it would be completed, but I can't tell you exactly what will be the time differences between these two points," he said about the transition, predicting an announcement regarding the beginning of the transition at the Lisbon conference.

He acknowledged that there is an ongoing process to identify which provinces to transition to Afghan control first, and what metrics to use in judging progress on goals. He said it was premature, however, to say which provinces might be ready first or what specific metrics might be used.

"We will not leave until we have finished our job... A handover doesn't mean an exit," he said. NATO forces will have an ongoing role, which will include the presence of a base in Kabul that will allow them to continue to provide support at some level in perpetuity, he said.

On the ever-puzzling issue about what to do regarding Afghan government corruption, Rasmussen said that the international community must keep up political pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai but said that he believes Karzai is sincere about cooperating with the NATO-led coalition on this issue.

"He realizes that it is a prerequisite for gaining the trust of his own people that he and his government fight corruption determinedly," he said. "I really do believe he will do what it takes."

Rasmussen said the Lisbon conference will address a host of issues, including tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, NATO cooperation on missile defense, and cyber warfare. He also endorsed a NATO missile defense shield and extended an offer to Russia to participate. (Russia has shown little enthusiasm for missile-defense cooperation.)

On nuclear weapons, Rasmussen said that while he shared Obama's goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, for the time being nukes will remain in Europe as part of NATO's posture. He said the conference will not come out with specific numbers for the reductions of nuclear weapons based in Europe.

"We will not give up nuclear capabilities as a central part of our deterrence policy," he said.