The Cable

GOP wins first procedural battle as New START debate set to begin

The Senate could begin debate over New START nuclear reductions with Russia as early as tonight or tomorrow morning, but already Republican senators have secured a procedural ruling that could make it easier for them to bring up what are being called "treaty killer" amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has decided to bring the New START treaty to the floor in parallel with the Senate's other major obligation this week, passing an overall funding bill to keep the government running, a senate Democratic leadership aide confirmed to The Cable. The treaty has been placed on what's known as the "executive calendar," meaning that the Senate can go back and forth debating both the treaty and the funding bill for the rest of the week, the aide explained.

New START "is on the executive calendar which means they don't need our consent to get on it, nor have they needed it all year," a GOP senate leadership aide told The Cable. "But since the government shuts down on Saturday if we don't pass a funding bill, I would imagine they'll want to turn to funding the government next."

In fact, the plan is to do both at once -- get the ball rolling on New START while also tackling the funding issue -- the Democratic leadership aide confirmed.

Republicans are still divided as to whether there is enough time to debate and ratify the treaty this year, but Senate leadership is moving forward regardless. To prepare for the coming debate, several GOP senators asked the Senate parliamentarian to give an official ruling on whether the preamble to the treaty is open for amendments.

Treaty supporters object to amending the preamble, because any changes would force the treaty to go back to bilateral negotiations with the Russians, which could take months and possibly even scuttle New START entirely.

This is why treaty supporters refer to such amendments as "treaty killers." The negative effect that amendments would have on the process is likely far greater than the effect the amendments would have on the agreement itself.

On Tuesday, the parliamentarian ruled in the GOP's favor, stating that yes, the preamble to the treaty is amendable. We're told that several GOP senators are preparing to try to amend it to take out the language that acknowledges the link between offensive and defensive missile capabilities.

"We have been asked to re-examine the precedent which states that preambles to treaties are not amendable," the Senate parliamentarian stated in his ruling, which was obtained by The Cable

The parliamentarian ruled that a precedent in Riddick's Senate Procedure guide from May 18, 1998, (noted at footnote 31 in the treaties chapter of Riddick's), which stated that treaty preambles were not amendable, was not correct. Therefore, there's no reason why senators can't try to change the preamble during the floor debate.

"We have found no other authority to support the conclusion that preambles to treaties are not amendable, nor have we heard an argument to support that position," the parliamentarian stated in his ruling. "Unless it can be demonstrated to us that there is in fact valid precedent or convincing logic preventing the Senate from amending preambles to treaties, we will advise from this point forward that preambles to treaties may be amended."

It's no coincidence that the five senators who asked the parliamentarian for the ruling are all GOP senators currently arguing for a delay in treaty consideration until next year. They are Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John Thune (R-SD), James Risch (R-ID), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and John Barrasso (R-WY).

Kyl is the GOP point man on New START. Thune's state is home to strategic bomber fleets. Risch almost derailed the committee hearing over New START over an undisclosed intelligence concern. DeMint is a staunch treaty opponent and is advocating for a huge expansion of missile defense. And Barrasso actually tried to amend the preamble in committee, but his amendment was ruled out of order by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). Kerry will have trouble blocking that amendment on the floor if the parliamentarian's ruling is allowed to stand.

Treaty supporters have maintained that the language is not legally binding and does not constrain U.S. missile defense plans. Republicans are planning to try to turn that argument on its head.

"Given the insistence by treaty supporters that the preamble is non-binding and could not be used by Russia to withdraw, one should assume they no longer have any objections to removing the missile defense provisions from the Treaty now that amendments are in order," one senior GOP senate aide said.

What about the substance of the preamble language itself? Here's what it says, exactly:

"Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties."

And here's what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said about that language at the Council on Foreign Relations in May:

"The treaty's preamble does include language acknowledging the relationship between strategic offensive and defensive forces, but this is simply a statement of fact. It does not constrain our missile defense programs in any way. In fact, a similar provision was part of the original START treaty and did not prevent us from developing our missile defenses."

And here's what Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) said about the language at a hearing in July:

"We originally were told there would be no references to missile defense in the treaty, and no linkage drawn between offensive and defensive weapons. Then we were told there would be such a reference, but only in the preamble, which of course is not legally binding. However, in the final treaty text -- not just in the preamble, but Article 5 of the treaty itself -- there is a clear, legally-binding limitation on our missile defense options. While this limitation may not be a meaningful one, it is a limitation."

UPDATE: Kyl said Tuesday he still doesn't think there's enough time to complete work on the treaty this year and that he will try to defeat the treaty if it comes up during the lame duck session. "I let the majority leader know that's an issue for a lot of my colleagues," Kyl told reporters Tuesday. "And if he does bring it up, I will work very hard to achieve that result, namely that the treaty fails."

The Cable

Richard C. Holbrooke, 1941-2010

Special Representative Richard Holbrooke passed away on Monday night after two surgeries failed to stem the damage caused by a tear in his aorta suffered on Friday.

"Tonight America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday evening in a statement. "Richard Holbrooke served the country he loved for nearly half a century, representing the United States in far-flung war-zones and high-level peace talks, always with distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination. He was one of a kind -- a true statesman -- and that makes his passing all the more painful."

"I had the privilege to know Richard for many years and to call him a friend, colleague and confidante. As Secretary of State, I have counted on his advice and relied on his leadership. This is a sad day for me, for the State Department and for the United States of America," Clinton said. "Tonight my thoughts and prayers are with Richard's beloved wife Kati, his sons David and Anthony, his step-children Elizabeth and Chris Jennings, his daughter-in-law Sarah, and all of his countless friends and colleagues."

There had been hope around Washington Monday that Holbrooke would pull through after he collapsed in Clinton's 7th floor office Friday afternoon, then picked himself up and walked himself out of the State Department on his way to the hospital.

On Monday, President Obama called Holbrooke a "tough son of a gun" and said that he is "going to be putting up a tremendous fight." After his passing, Obama issued a statement praising Holbrooke as "a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected."

"The progress that we have made in Afghanistan and Pakistan is due in no small measure to Richard's relentless focus on America's national interest, and pursuit of peace and security," said Obama. "One of his friends and admirers once said that, ‘If you're not on the team and you're in his way, God help you.'  Like so many Presidents before me, I am grateful that Richard Holbrooke was on my team, as are the American people."

Earlier Monday, Clinton had said that Holbrooke was in "stable but still in very critical condition" after undergoing his second surgical procedure in as many days, an operation to improve circulation. He endured 21 hours of surgery on Saturday to repair the tear in his aorta that caused his collapse.

As news of his death was reported Monday evening, messages of condolence and fond memories were pouring in from foreign leaders and diplomats around the world.

"In Richard Holbrooke's passing the world has lost a great diplomat while I have lost a personal friend and professional role model," said Pakistan's ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani. "His greatest asset was his ability to be a personal friend and diplomatic interlocutor at the same time."

At a breakfast meeting the day before his collapse, Haqqani asked Holbrooke how long he planned to keep working. "As long as I can make a difference," Holbrooke responded.

Holbrooke's legendary multi-decade career as a public servant began as a USAID representative in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and ended with his stint as the Obama administration's top civilian official dealing with the war in Afghanistan in Pakistan.

In that latest role, he was furiously active and hugely controversial, as he took on at different times the military, the Afghan government, the U.S. development community, Congress, and any others he felt stood in the way of progress.

At times, he was the Obama administration's unofficial spokesman on the mission in Afghanistan. Yet he had a strained relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, then U.S. military commander Stanley McChrystal, and top members of the National Security Council. Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones reportedly wanted to fire Holbrooke, but Clinton stepped in to protect her long time friend and advisor.

He famously coined the term "Af-Pak" and advocated for it right up until the time it was scuttled. He traveled to dozens of countries, organizing a worldwide network of Special Representatives. He sometimes bragged that he was an author of the Pentagon Papers.

In April, Holbrooke had angioplasty due to possible clogged heart valves, but traveled to Afghanistan only one week later. In a June trip to Afghanistan, his plane came under fire and he brushed it off, saying, "I've been shot at in other countries, a lot of other countries."

Inside the State Department, Holbrooke assembled the most comprehensive interagency team in government, with top experts from over a dozen agencies. He was so proud of his team that he would often spend time praising them one by one during his public speaking events. One of his deputies, Frank Ruggiero, is acting head of that team for the time being, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday.

Throughout his tenure in the Obama administration, there was constant speculation about exactly how powerful Holbrooke actually was, whether he was up or down in the eyes of President Obama, and whether his varying levels of public exposure were indications of his relative policy influence.

In one of your humble Cable guy's first ever posts for Foreign Policy, Holbrooke sat down for an interview to diffuse rumors that his lack of recent public appearances was an indication he had been sidelined by the White House.

"I didn't know I was missing in action because I was kind of busy all day," said Holbrooke at the time, denying that the White House had given him any instructions to lay low or stay out of the public eye, as had been alleged.

What wasn't written in that post was that your humble Cable guy had spent the two hours prior to the interview following Holbrooke around a book party for his wife, author Kati Marton, in an attempt to get a comment from him.

After successfully avoiding contact for the entire party, eventually Holbrooke agreed to talk. He began by putting his hand on my shoulder, looking me straight in the eye, and saying, "Josh, I want you to know I believe that government officials have a responsibility to talk to the press... even annoying reporters who follow them around parties when they are just trying to have a good time with their friends."

And that was Holbrooke; diplomatic and sarcastic, charming and brusque, always entertaining, and always larger than life. He will be missed.

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