The Cable

New START goes into effect Saturday, FMCT next

A host of senior officials and lawmakers are on their way to Munich this weekend, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will ceremoniously exchange the article of ratification for New START with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, officially bringing the treaty into force.

"With New START, the United States and Russia have reached another milestone in our bilateral relationship and continue the momentum Presidents Obama and Medvedev created with the ‘reset' nearly two years ago," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement. The official exchange will take place on Saturday, Feb. 5.

There will be a star studded U.S. lineup at the Munich Security Conference, including form the administration: National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, NSS Afghanistan-Pakistan coordinator Doug Lute, NSS Senior Director Dan Shapiro, and NSS Director for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Jeff Hovenier.

The congressional delegation is impressive as well: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).

So what's next for arms control? Back in 2009, the Obama administration had been planning to follow up New START with a congressional push to ratify the Congressional Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). But after the grueling fight to ratify New START and in the face of staunch and reliable Republican promises that CTBT won't be ratified by this Senate, the new plan is to move forward with the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty next. (FMCT is an agreement that all countries stop producing new fissile material for nuclear weapons.)

The State Department's lead negotiator for New START, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, said on Jan. 27 at the conference on disarmament in Geneva that the Obama administration wants to get going on FMCT now.

"Our priority is for a negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty to begin here in the Conference on Disarmament, and we are resolved during this CD session to do everything we can to ensure that that goal is achieved," Gottemeoller said.

So why haven't the negotiations for FMCT started already? "A single country has been basically concerned about the start of negotiations and has been standing in the way of launching negotiations," she said.

That country is Pakistan, which has been resisting FMCT because they are still increasing the size of their nuclear arsenal. In fact, the Washington Post reported on Monday that Pakistan has doubled its deployed nuclear arsenal, which now totals over 100 weapons.

The State Department has thus far been unable to convince Pakistan to get on board with FMCT, despite that the Obama administration has been striving to increase support and ties with the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and the military led by Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

"We believe in the value of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. And through our Strategic Dialogue we are encouraging Pakistan to engage constructively on efforts to conclude the FMCT," Crowley said.

Of course, if the negotiations for FMCT ever do begin and if all the countries involved come to an agreement on the treaty, it still faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where GOP senators are prepared to take a very close look. Inside the GOP, that could reignite a familiar battle between the two top Republicans on arms control, Richard Lugar (R-IN) who supports the pact and Jon Kyl (R-KY) who still has concerns.

The Cable

Top House appropriator: U.S. aid to Egypt not stopping any time soon

As the Obama administration and the rest of the Washington foreign policy community struggle to come to terms with the unfolding events in Egypt, top White House officials and an increasing number of top lawmakers seem to agree that the U.S. should not suspend military aid to the Egyptian military in the near term.

The speculation over whether U.S. military aid to Egypt, which totaled $1.3 billion last year, would be suspended hit a high pitch on Jan. 29 when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, "We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events now and in the coming days." That same day, House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a statement, ""The United States must leverage its long-standing assistance to press Mr. Mubarak to let the voice of his people be heard through legitimate democratic elections."

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked that back on Jan. 30, telling ABC News, "There is no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid. We always are looking and reviewing our aid."

And on Monday, House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) also indicated that aid to Egypt would not be cut off anytime soon.

"While there are calls for eliminating Egypt's economic and military aid, I urge caution when deciding what the U.S. response will be," she said. "It is critical that we are deliberate about the actions we take. Egypt has been a moderate influence in the Middle East and has a peace agreement with Israel."

U.S. aid to Egypt totaled $1.55 billion in fiscal 2010, which includes $1.3 million in direct military aid. That's down from a high of $2.1 billion in total U.S. assistance in fiscal 1998. For fiscal 2011, the Obama administration had requested $250 million in economic support funds. That request is still pending.

The Obama administration's response to political upheaval this month in Lebanon is the most recent indicator of how they view the continuation of military aid to a country where the political winds are blowing against the interests of the United States.

Despite the fact Lebanon now has a prime minister backed by Hezbollah, the U.S. will continue funding to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for now, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said in a Jan. 27 roundtable that included The Cable.

"We think that it's a very important independent institution," McDonough said about the LAF. "That's why we support the Lebanese Armed Forces, not because of their association or non-association with Hezbollah, but rather because of their independence -- their independence from any political actor. We think that's very important, we're going to continue to work with them, but obviously we're going to take a look at each of the developments along the way."

The U.S. relationship with the Egyptian military closely mirrors the U.S. relationship with the LAF, said Andrew Tabler, next generation fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"The military in Egypt right now is maintaining control and they've been responsible regarding the protesters, so they're definitely a force that the U.S. government wants to maintain favor with at this stage," Tabler said.

The administration's latest message, that military and foreign aid suspension is not in the works, is due to the fact that the military aid is directly tied to Egypt's peace accord with Israel - and, of course, because the political situation in Cairo is still in flux, Tabler said.

"The administration is sending a signal to the Egyptian military that if you act responsibly we'll stand behind you. I think that's a smart policy."