The Cable

How many Poles does it take to pass New START?

As the White House scrambles to secure enough GOP Senate votes to ratify the New START treaty with Russia, there's a lot of overt political grandstanding -- and a lot of horse trading going on behind the scenes.

In a long floor speech on Wednesday Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) declared, "I am deeply concerned the New START treaty may once again undermine the confidence of our friends and allies in Central and Eastern Europe." Then, quietly, he offered his support to the Obama administration in exchange for waiving visa requirements for Polish citizens.

Various GOP senators have submitted demands in exchange for their support of the treaty, but they are usually related to concerns over the treaty itself. For example, the administration has offered Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) over $84 billion for nuclear modernization, under the premise that shoring up the safety of the stockpile is needed to ensure national security.

But admitting Poland into the State Department's Visa Waiver Program, a longstanding aim for the Polish government, is pretty tough to tie to the New START treaty. Here's how Voinovich's office linked the issues in a statement given Thursday to The Cable.

"Senator Voinovich is eager to strengthen the United States' relations with our allies in Eastern Europe to allay their concerns stemming from President Obama's pursuit of the ‘Reset Policy,' and the expansion of the existing Visa Waiver Program does just that," said Voinovich's press secretary Rebecca Neal.

Neal said that Voinovich requested an expansion of the Visa Waiver Program following a Sept. 9 phone conversation with Vice President Joseph Biden.

"During the call, Vice President Biden asked what the administration could do to address Senator Voinovich's concerns regarding the treaty, as well as other matters of importance to the senator," said Neal. "The vice president's offer was not limited to items already in the treaty."

Voinovich drove home his advocacy for the Poles in a long floor speech Wednesday about New START that was seen by some as an indication he wasn't ready to support the treaty.

"The president's stated goal of a world without nuclear weapons is noble, but I believe the Senate's consideration of the New START treaty must be considered through a wider lens that includes the treaty's implications for our friends and allies in the former captive nations," said Voinovich.

Voinovich even went so far as to circulate a proposed amendment to the Senate's resolution for ratification for New START, obtained by The Cable, that would prevent the treaty from going into force unless the Visa Waiver Program was opened up to Poland.

A Polish diplomat told The Cable that Warsaw has been working with Voinovich for years on this issue."We knew about this initiative, we support it, and we like it. We have cooperated with Senator Voinovich for years over the issue," the diplomat said. "Maybe with the help of Senator Voinovich we can achieve this in the next months."

But Voinovich may also have interests at home informing his amendment: Large parts of Ohio were settled by Polish immigrants, and second- and-third generation Poles are extremely influential in Ohio government.

The diplomat said that for Poles, and their relatives all over Ohio, the issues is one of fairness -- not related to U.S.-Russian relations in any way.

"We don't fear the ‘reset' with Russia, but the main issue is that we are suffering an injustice right now by being excluded from the program."

Biden's office declined to comment.

Update: Pawel Maciag, press attaché for Embassy of Poland in Washington, wrote in to The Cable, "Quotes from a Polish diplomat published in this article may have mistakenly suggested that Poland takes a position regarding linkage between ratification of the New START and Visa Waiver Program. We do not. We are very sorry for the misunderstanding."

Meanwhile, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski published an article Friday that said, "It is important to make clear: my government supports the ratification of New START, because we believe it will bolster our country’s security, and that of Europe as a whole."

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The Cable

Mark Kirk: A long way from yes on New START

10 incoming GOP senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today to demand the right to vote on the New START treaty with Russia. Senator-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) didn't sign that letter, but his staff told The Cable that he hasn't decided how he will vote yet and won't decide until he receives several specific things from the Obama administration.

Kirk is a key vote, and not just because he is a moderate GOP lawmaker with decades of military and foreign policy experience. Kirk will fill the seat being vacated by appointee Roland Burris, which means he will be seated this year, probably shortly after the Thanksgiving break. So if somehow the administration is able to secure a vote on New START this year, Kirk will be one of three brand-new senators who will vote on the pact, along with Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Chris Coons (D-DE). Among them, Kirk is the only Republican taking over for a departing Democrat.

"The Senator-elect wants to carefully review all available information before making a decision on this matter," Kirk spokesman Lance Trover told The Cable Thursday.

An aide to Kirk explained to The Cable  that Kirk is asking for multiple pieces of information before he makes up his mind:  copies of the complete negotiating record of the treaty; documents related to a parallel discussion on U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation conducted by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher and her Russian counterpart deputy foreign minister Sergei Rybakov; classified briefings on the reliability of America's nuclear warheads from the directors of the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories; U.S. Strategic Command's written analysis prepared to support the treaty negotiations; planning documents showing the administration' commitment to modernize the three legs of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; and formal briefings from the Departments of State, Defense, and Energy.

That's a lot of data for the administration to pull together for Kirk before the end of the year. The administration has so far refused to provide senators with the full negotiating record or the inside details of the Tauscher-Rybakov discussions, so that could also be a stumbling block in the effort to win Kirk's vote.

On a conference call Thursday afternoon, The Cable asked Ben Chang, deputy spokesman for the National Security Staff, if the administration would entertain the idea of handing over the full negotiating record for New START.

Chang wouldn't say. But he reiterated that " there is time on the Senate calendar to get the treaty ratified this year and we are committed to do so."

So what about the other two new senators who will be seated during the lame duck? We haven't been able to get a response from Coons on his position, but Manchin spokesperson Lara Ramsburg told The Cable that "Joe Manchin's governing philosophy on defense policy will be to listen to our commanders and generals on the ground, and before he can cast a vote for or against START II, he will need to assess their recommendations." We're still trying to figure out just what that means, considering that every military leader from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down has voiced strong support.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama continues to pledge to push for a treaty vote this year and has tasked Vice President Joseph Biden to work on it "day and night."

"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year," Obama said Thursday. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."

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