The Cable

Arms control groups appeal to Obama for help with Congress

As congressional budget battles loom, 22 leading nuclear arms control advocates have joined in an effort to urge President Barack Obama to protect funds for nuclear non-proliferation and securing of loose nuclear material.

"We strongly urge you to make every effort to ensure that threat reduction and nonproliferation programs are funded at the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved level in the fiscal year 2012 energy and water appropriations bill," the arms control leaders wrote to Obama on Oct 27. "Based on reports from Hill staff, we are concerned that while the final funding level remains unresolved, the administration is not forcefully making the case for the Senate version of the bill, which in key respects is identical to your request."

The Senate will take up a series of appropriations bills this week as part of the process to fund the government before the current continuing resolution expires on Nov. 13.

The deficit-conscious House is looking to cut U.S. funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs well below the White House's requested levels. For one non-proliferation program -- the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which secures loose nuclear material around the world -- the Senate's appropriations bill matches the administration's request of $508.3 million, while the House bill would cut the program by $85 million.

For a related program, the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program, the Senate bill matches the administration's request of $571.6 million while the House would cut $75.2 million from that program.

"Failure to approve the Senate-passed levels would significantly hamper U.S. efforts to secure vulnerable weapons and materials around the world," the arms control leaders wrote.

The signers included Ambassador Kenneth Brill, former U.S. ambassador to the IAEA; David Culp, legislative representative for the Friends Committee on National Legislation; Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists; John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World; Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association; and Stephen Young, senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

On Oct. 11, many of the same arms control leaders circulated a letter to congressmen asking for help in pressuring the "supercommittee" to reduce spending for nuclear weapons in favor of supporting other priorities in the nuclear budget, such as programs to secure loose nuclear material.

"Much of this spending is designed to confront Cold War-era threats that no longer exist while posing financial and opportunity costs that can no longer be justified," the arms control advocates wrote. "By responsibly pursuing further reductions in U.S. nuclear forces and scaling back plans for new and excessively large strategic nuclear weapons systems and warhead production facilities, the United States can help close its budget deficit."

The White House did make the case for non-proliferation funding in its Oct. 19 letter to Congress, which threatened to veto spending bills that don't protect administration spending priorities.

"The administration urges the Congress to support robust funding for NNSA [the National Nuclear Security Administration] to continue the commitment to modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and to upgrading the stockpile set forth in the Nuclear Posture Review and reaffirmed as part of the New START Treaty ratification process," wrote Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew.

But arms control advocates are worried that despite these words from OMB, funding for nuclear reduction programs could be on the chopping block when House and Senate negotiators meet behind closed doors to reach a compromise on their differing spending priorities..

"Nuclear terrorism is the ultimate preventable catastrophe. If highly enriched uranium and plutonium are adequately secured or eliminated, they cannot be stolen for use in a nuclear device," they wrote. "No less than America's national security is at stake."

The Cable

Obama to Cannes, Clinton to Istanbul

In what seems like a deliberate ploy to escape the cold autumn weather gripping Washington, President Barack Obama will leave for Cannes on Wednesday for the G-20 summit and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is off to Istanbul for an international meeting on Afghanistan.

Upon arriving in Cannes on Thursday morning, Obama will hold bilateral meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  He will then meet with the "L-20," an elected group of labor leaders from the G-20 countries. On Thursday afternoon, the formal G-20 schedule commences.

Obama will meet on Friday with the newly reelected Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, followed by a press conference, and then perhaps some more one-on-one time with Sarkozy. Other bilateral meetings could pop up, according to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

"The G-20 agenda is critical to growing our economy here back at home, to strengthening the recovery, to increase exports and to create jobs," NSC Senior Director for International Economics Mike Froman told reporters on Monday morning. "In Cannes, we expect the eurozone to be the primary focus of discussion, but in addition, the leaders will focus on mechanisms that have been put in place to ensure strong, balanced and sustainable growth."

Froman said other topics at the G-20 summit will include financial regulatory reform and how to keep momentum going on G-20 priorities, such as security and infrastructure development, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, fighting corruption, and strengthening the multilateral trading system.

"[T]here is growing agreement around the world that the focus at Cannes needs to be on growth," said Treasury Undersecretary Lael Brainard. "President Obama remains intensely focused on putting Americans back to work.  Recovery in the U.S. remains fragile and still too vulnerable to disruption beyond our shores."

Brainard called the new European plan to stave off financial collapse "significant" but declined to comment on whether or not the administration has confidence that Europe's the $1.4 trillion firewall the Obama administration is recommending will actually be implemented. The officials didn't comment directly on the idea of China bailing out Europe, but they didn't seem thrilled about the prospect, either.

So the concept that China and other emerging economies are part of this discussion, that they will be there, along with ourselves and other industrialized countries, speaking with the Europeans, talking about the elaboration and the implementation of their plan, and expressing unity and support of what the Europeans are doing, we think is very much appropriate," Froman said.

Brainard also implied -- but did not say outright -- that the United States was not supportive of the European idea of imposing a tax on all trades of stocks and bonds. She talked about the Obama administration's financial responsibility fee as the preferred approach.

"We think that the financial responsibility fee, which is on the liabilities of the largest financial institutions, is well-targeted to make those institutions that are bearing greater risk pay more. It is better targeted to prevent evasion. And the IMF went through a similar assessment exercise and came, frankly, to a pretty similar conclusion," she said.

Meanwhile, Clinton leaves Monday night for London to attend a conference on cyber security policy. On Wednesday, Clinton will participate in an international conference in Istanbul on the way forward in Afghanistan. The conference is part of the lead up to the Bonn conference on Afghanistan scheduled for Dec. 5.

"Istanbul is seen as an opportunity for Afghanistan's neighbors to reiterate their commitment to a stable, secure, economically viable Afghanistan and to supporting Afghan-led reconciliation, the transition to Afghan security leadership, and then a shared regional economic vision," a senior administration official told reporters on Monday. "It's a gathering of regional foreign ministers. The U.S. is actually there just as a supporter, which is critical."

The Bonn conference is expected to include 85 countries and 15 international organizations, and is being held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Agreement in December 2001, which was convened to establish an interim government for ruling Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion.

As for Wednesday's conference in Istanbul, the opening session will feature remarks from Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. Clinton will make remarks on Wednesday afternoon after lunch.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will also be at the conference, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will be in town for a U.S.-Afghan-Pakistani trilateral meeting as well. The United States has been pressing the Pakistani government to cut ties with the Haqqani network, but there's no progress to report just yet.

"The secretary, I think, was quite clear that we all need to see visible signs of progress as a matter of some urgency in days and weeks, as she noted, as opposed to months and years," the senior administration official said.

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