The Cable

New Foreign Affairs Chairwoman calls for more sanctions on North Korea

Incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) isn't waiting until the new Congress comes into session to oppose some of the Obama administration's foreign policy positions. On Wednesday, she called for the White House to impose new sanctions on North Korea in light of a new report on Pyongyang's arms proliferation.

The U.N. Security Council released a report today that accuses North Korea of supplying ballistic missile and nuclear technology to Syria, Iran, and Burma. Authored by the so-called "Panel of Experts," which includes experts from U.S., the U.K., China, France, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The report was held up for months due to Chinese opposition to its release. The report claims that Pyongyang is flouting recent U.N. Security Council resolutions forbidding it from engaging in weapons proliferation.

"Evidence... indicates that the DPRK has continued to provide missiles, components, and technology to certain countries including Iran and Syria since the imposition of these measures," the report states. "The Panel of Experts is also looking into suspicious activity in Myanmar..."

That's enough for Ros-Lehtinen to call for the administration to back off its effort to reach out to North Korea.

"Instead of continuing its failed strategy of seeking to engage the regime in endless negotiation, the administration must ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang. At the upcoming G-20 summit in Seoul, President Obama must persuade the heads of state to call for the imposition of new and effective U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea," Ros-Lehtinen said.

"In addition, the U.S. and other responsible nations must use every means at their disposal to apply pressure on Pyongyang, the first step being to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism."

The State Department has made it clear that weapons transfers alone don't meet the legal threshold for relisting a country as a state sponsor of terrorism. And there's no sign the Obama administration's engagement with North Korea is picking up steam, considering that Pyongyang refuses to reaffirm the commitment to denuclearization it agreed to in 2007.

But Ros-Lehtinen is making it clear that she will be an aggressive critic of the administration's foreign policy positions as chairwoman, much as she was when she was ranking Republican on the committee. And she's making it clear that she's not afraid to ramp up the rhetoric to do it.

"This forthcoming report should be a wake-up call for the U.S. and other responsible nations," she said. "We must act quickly and firmly to stop North Korea's proliferation before it ends up costing American lives and those of our allies."

The Cable

Debt Commission to Gates: You can't keep your $100 billion in savings

The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released its proposal Wednesday to slash $200 billion from the federal budget by 2015, including $100 billion in cuts to the defense budget.

"We have a patriotic duty to come together on a plan that will make America better off tomorrow than it is today," wrote the co-chairs, former GOP Senator Alan Simpson and Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, in their draft proposal. "America cannot be great if we go broke. Our economy will not grow and our country will not be able to compete without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our back."

$100 billion is exactly the amount Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed in August to save through cost-cutting initiatives over the next five years. But Gates' proposal is meant to incentivize services to find savings by letting them "keep what they catch," and was actually a move to defend the administration's call for ongoing 1 percent real growth in the defense budget going forward.

Simpson and Bowles want that $100 billion to be applied directly to deficit reduction, which they calculate would save $28 billion in 2015. But they don't stop there. The heads of the commission also proposed freezing military pay for three years, reducing procurement by 15 percent, reducing overseas basing personnel by one third, doubling Gates' promise to cut contractors by 10 percent, reducing research funding by 10 percent, and modernizing the military's healthcare system known as Tricare, the costs of which have been spiraling out of control.

In their "illustrative list" of proposed defense cuts, the commission co-chairs identified a host of Pentagon programs that they feel should be scaled back or eliminated. They recommended ending procurement of the V-22 Osprey, cancelling the Marines Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and its version of the F-35 fighter, replacing half of the planned Navy F-35 fighters with F-16s and F18s, cancelling the Navy's "sea-basing" plan, and scuttling the Army's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), Ground Combat Vehicle, and Joint Tactical Radio.

Wired journalist Spencer Ackerman points out that this is just one more salvo in the ongoing battle over whether it's time to start cutting the defense budget in order to address the nation's deteriorating fiscal situation.

"None of this is binding. It'll take the support of 14 out of 18 commission members to even get Congress to consider Simpson and Bowles' proposals, something congressional leaders have pledged to do. The full commission has until December 1 to vote on the plan, and as David Kurtz writes, the commissioners don't seem pleased with what Simpson and Bowles are offering," Ackerman writes. "Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the national debt the single greatest threat to national security. Now to see what resistance develops to Bowles and Simpson's effort at confronting it."

Nevertheless, those in the defense community who have been calling for cuts, such as the members of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, are praising the recommendations as a step in the right direction.

"Even though this appears to be a good start, the devil in the details," said Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives. "For example, the cuts may double-count to some extent by claiming Gates' proposed saving as a subtraction from currently proposed deficits. Still, defense is cut close to its proportion of spending - which is a good place to start."

The White House is trying to stay out of the fray, for now.

"The president will wait until the bipartisan fiscal commission finishes its work before commenting," White House spokesperson Bill Burton said in a statement. "He respects the challenging task that the co-chairs and the commissioners are undertaking and wants to give them space to work on it. These ideas, however, are only a step in the process towards coming up with a set of recommendations and the President looks forward to reviewing their final product early next month."

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