The Cable

DeMint still pushing for missile defense against Russia

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who has been known to confuse Russia for the Soviet Union, isn't backing down  from his position that the United States should build a huge missile defense system capable of defending against every possible missile attack from every possible foreign threat, including Russia.

DeMint created havoc with his missile defense proposal at this month's Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting, where he offered an amendment to the resolution to ratify the START nuclear reductions treaty that would have committed the United States to building a missile defense system to protect every American everywhere, at all times. Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) eventually worked out a compromise with DeMint that didn't include this commitment but did endorse the idea of moving away from the principle of "mutually assured destruction" that has been a cornerstone of U.S.-Russia nuclear deterrence for decades.

Undeterred (pun intended), DeMint offered an amendment last week to the defense authorization bill for the 2011 fiscal year that would require the United States "to deploy as rapidly as technology permits an effective and layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against all ballistic missile attacks."

This amendment would constitute a wholesale transformation of U.S. missile defense policy, which would commit the United States to defending itself against the missile arsenals of Russia, China, and others. The current missile defense system is only designed to defend against rogue states like North Korea and Iran.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jon Kyl  (R-AZ) also proposed an amendment that is pro-missile defense, but is not framed in such a way that explicitly antagonizes Russia, or obligates the United States to take on the costs required to build a system designed to shoot down any ballistic missile.

Corker and Kyl's amendment states clearly that the Obama administration's missile defense plan, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach, "is an appropriate response to the existing ballistic missile threat from Iran to European territory of North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, and to potential future ballistic missile capabilities of Iran." He also called on the United States to cooperate with Russia on missile defense, noting that the current plan "is not intended to ... provide a missile defense capability relative to the ballistic missile deterrent forces of the Russian Federation, or diminish strategic stability with the Russian Federation."

Their reference to "strategic stability" is key because the Russians have made clear that they would unilaterally withdraw from the START treaty if they believe "strategic stability" with the United States is upset. Corker supports the treaty, and his amendment's inclusion of this language is a bid to keep the treaty alive. DeMint is against the treaty.

"DeMint's advocacy of a nationwide Star Wars system is really back to the future, a past rejected even by George W. Bush because it was dangerous and wildly expensive," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World."The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that even Jon Kyl and Bob Corker are relative moderates -- relative to DeMint."

DeMint's advocacy for missile defense against Russia also puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has attempted several times to explain to DeMint that no administration, Republican or Democrat, has suggested building missile defense aimed at Russia.

"That, in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive," Gates told DeMint in a May 10 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

DeMint and Corker's amendments were never voted on because the Senate failed to start debate on the defense authorization bill, due to GOP opposition to repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

The START treaty, which was approved 14-4 by the Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 16, could be voted on in the November lame-duck session or might be pushed to next year. DeMint was a no-show for the committee vote on the New START resolution.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: UNGA, peace talks, China, Burma, Yemen

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

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a series of bilateral meetings Monday, including with Foreign Minister William Hague of Great Britain, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon of Canada, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna of India and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem of Syria. Later this week in Washington she'll meet with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Hague gave Clinton a readout of his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
  • Special Envoy George Mitchell, his deputy David Hale, and the NSC's Dan Shapiro left Monday for the Middle East to try to hold together the direct peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won't say whether he will leave the talks until next week, following the end of the Israeli settlement moratorium. The U.S. was "disappointed" in the Israeli decision, Crowley said. "From our standpoint, we remain focused on our long-term goal of advancing negotiations towards a two-state solution... We hope that the parties will continue to take constructive actions towards this long-term goal." There are no further negotiations scheduled at this point. Clinton spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday.
  • Crowley said the dispute between Japan and China over the fishing boat captain that rammed a Japanese coast guard ship should be over, now that the Japanese have returned the captain to China. "We believe that has resolved the matter and we hope that tensions that had begun to escalate will diminish," he said. Doesn't seem like China is on board with that yet.
  • The State Department has been having "high level discussions" with the Egyptian government about the child abduction case of Noor and Ramsey Bower, who were allegedly abducted by their mother to Egypt over a year ago. Their father, Massachusetts resident Charlie Bower, got to spend a half hour visiting with them last week. "We are supportive of the Bower family and doing everything we can to help bring his sons back to the United States," Crowley said.
  • Following President Obama's meeting last Friday with the ASEAN member states, Crowley laid out the administration's position on the upcoming Burmese elections and it isn't optimistic. "We hope that Burma will begin a constructive dialogue with ethnic groups within its population. We've been disappointed with the electoral process that Burma has put forward this year. We don't believe that what they have announced and what they plan will result in a credible election," he said.
  • Undersecretary of State Bill Burns held a Friends of Yemen meeting in New York last Friday. "It is important to make sure that we strengthen the capacity of the government so that you don't see the same vacuum develop in Yemen that has developed in Somalia," Crowley said. "We'll continue to help Yemen in terms of its dialogue with its own population in both north and south."