Three key Republican senators, including Senate
Majority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) wrote
to President Obama Monday to demand more information about the administration's
dealings with Russia regarding missile-defense cooperation.
"As you know, the ballistic missile defense program
touches some of our country's most sensitive technology, collection assets and
real time intelligence," wrote Kyl, along with Sens. James Risch (R-ID) and Mark
Kirk (R-IL). "We therefore request detailed responses to the following
questions, before the administration enters into any agreement or joint study
related to U.S. missile defenses [with Russia]."
The letter then ticks off a list of a dozen detailed
information requests the senators have for the White House about the potential for
cooperation on missile defense between the United States (or NATO) and Russia that
was discussed at the recent NATO summit in Lisbon. The letter also requests a
full briefing, "including documents," on the U.S.-Russia working discussions on
missile defense led by Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher and her Russian counterpart Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei
The letter does not once
mention New START, President Obama's nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia,
but the timing is no coincidence. Kyl is the GOP's point man on dealing with the administration as the White
House pushes for a ratification vote during this lame duck session of Congress,
and all eyes are upon him as Washington insiders try to assess whether
Republicans will ultimately agree to debate and vote on the pact this year.
Risch and Kirk are also important
for different reasons. Risch nearly derailed the Sept. 16 Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on New
START by declaring that a classified intelligence issue was giving him new
concerns about the treaty. Kirk, who is moving over from the House in January, just
replaced a Democratic senator and has said he is not yet ready to support ratification.
One signature missing from
the letter is that of Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John
McCain (R-AZ), the senator has most often voiced concerns about missile
defense in relation to New START. McCain seemed to indicate this week that he was
leaning toward supporting a vote this year.
believe we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Senator Kyl's
concerns and mine about missile defense and others," McCain
ABC's George Stephanopoulos Tuesday.
But now, even though Kyl, Risch, and Kirk aren't
directly linking their missile-defense request to New START, they've set out a
new request on a related issue just as the administration thought it had
fulfilled the bulk of their outstanding demands.
Nobody, including the White House, knows whether the
GOP leadership will ultimately agree to vote on New START this month. The
backing down from its call for a vote, despite the crowded
Senate calendar. Behind the scenes, quiet discussions are ongoing.
Times today ran
a story claiming that a new internal State Department
report revealed "secret talks" between the Obama administration and Russia on
missile defense and claiming that the report contradicted congressional testimony
by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The State Department struck back, issuing talking points
maintaining that there is no "secret deal" with Russia on missile defense, that
discussions on cooperation with Russia have been ongoing and public for some
time, and that any cooperation will in no way limit U.S. missile-defense plans
As for the Russians, they've been cold on the idea
of missile-defense cooperation all along, based on their longstanding concerns
about the very concept of missile defense and their abiding mistrust of U.S.
motives. Lately, however, they have made it clear that if NATO and the United
States are going to deploy missile defense all over Europe, they want to be involved.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin both
made statements recently to that effect.
In a provocative statement that is unlikely to be
viewed as helpful in the White House, Putin
told CNN's Larry King this week that
without New START, Russia will have to build up its nuclear forces, which are
also meant to deal with the "new threats" posed by U.S. plans for a
European-based missile-defense system.
Putin also explained his skepticism of the missile-defense program. "We
have been told that you'll do it in order to secure you against the, let's say,
Iranian nuclear threat," Putin said. "But such a threat, as of now,
King also pressed Putin to respond to Defense Secretary Robert Gates's contention that "Russian democracy has disappeared,"
as documented in a WikiLeaked diplomatic cable and
first reported on The Cable.
Calling Gates "deeply misled," he said, "When we are talking with our
American friends and tell them there are systemic problems in this regard, we
can hear from them 'Don't interfere with our affairs.' This is our tradition
and it's going to continue like that. We are not interfering. But to our
colleagues, I would also like to advise you, don't interfere either [with] the
sovereign choice of the Russian people."
said that it would take a "a very dumb nature" for the Senate
not to ratify New START, which he said is in America's own interest.