The Cable

Romney campaign: Russia’s withdrawal from Nunn-Lugar another example of Obama’s failed reset policy

Russia's announcement Wednesday that it will not participate in the Nunn-Lugar program to reduce the threat of loose nuclear materials is a slap in the face to President Barack Obama's effort to make arms control a feature of his "reset" policy with Russia, two top advisors to Mitt Romney said Thursday.

The New York Times described Moscow's move to end the 20 year, $8 billion program, started in 1993 by Sens. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), to secure loose nukes in Russia and decommission old Russian military inventories as "a potentially grave setback in the already fraying relationship between the former cold war enemies." In a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday, the Romney advisors said that the news is only the latest indication that the Obama administration has misread Russia's intentions and actions.

"The reset policy has been a complete disaster, partly because the administration has simply not understood how to deal with Russia," said Romney advisor and former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim. "Russia is pursuing a classic policy that Russia has pursued since at least Peter the Great... If they perceive you to be strong, they will work with you. They do not perceive us to be strong."

Russia can be worked with, as evidenced by U.S.-Russian cooperation to transfer military supplies through Russia to Afghanistan, he said. But the Russian exit from Nunn-Lugar, as well as Moscow's decision last month to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development, shows that the Kremlin no longer feels the need to work with the United States constructively.

"This administration, because the Russians perceive it to be weak, it not in a position to move these guys," said Zakheim. "The whole reset program is a complete flop."

Dov's son Roger Zakheim, another top Romney advisor who also works on the staff of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), said the end of Nunn-Lugar deals a blow to the administration's overall nonproliferation agenda.

"The administration touted New START and we were critical of that because it was a victory for the Russians, who gave no concessions... This to me is another natural consequence of the fact the Russians are the only ones that gain fruit from this relationship," he said.

"This president is trying to get down to zero and remove WMD from across the world; now he can't even get the bilateral cooperation that's been done for years. [His agenda] is kind of evaporating on his own watch."

As president, Obama has made arms control a central feature of his reset policy with Russia, spending enormous amounts of time and political capital to push for ratification of New START in 2010. He also has made securing loose nuclear material a feature of his foreign-policy agenda, hosting a 44-nation summit on the issue in Washington the same year.

As a senator and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2006, Obama joined with Lugar to sponsor a bill to expand the Nunn-Lugar to include conventional weapons.

In a statement Wednesday, Lugar said that in August meetings with Russian officials, the Russian government told him they wanted changes to the Nunn-Lugar umbrella agreement but that he was surprised by the announcement Russia was ending its participation in the program altogether.

In August alone, the program helped the securing of six nuclear weapons train transport shipments and destroyed 153.2 metric tons of chemical weapons nerve agent, Lugar said.

"The Nunn-Lugar scorecard now totals 7,610 strategic nuclear warheads deactivated, 902 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) destroyed, 498 ICBM silos eliminated, 191 ICBM mobile launchers destroyed, 155 bombers eliminated, 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) destroyed, 492 SLBM launchers eliminated, 684 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) eliminated, 33 nuclear submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles destroyed, 194 nuclear test tunnels eliminated, 3192.3 metric tons of Russian and Albanian chemical weapons agent destroyed, 590 nuclear weapons transport train shipments secured, security at 24 nuclear weapons storage sites upgraded, 39 biological threat monitoring stations built and equipped," the statement read. "Perhaps most importantly, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus are nuclear weapons free as a result of cooperative efforts under the Nunn-Lugar program. Those countries were the third, fourth and eighth largest nuclear weapons powers in the world."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the State Department had proposed an extension for the program that was unacceptable to Moscow. "Our American partners know that their proposal is at odds with our ideas about the forms and basis for building further cooperation in that area," the statement said, adding that Russia needed "a more modern legal framework."

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The Cable

Lamb to the slaughter

In an often heated congressional hearing Wednesday, lawmakers and witnesses alike pointed to State Department official Charlene Lamb as the person most directly responsible for rejecting multiple requests for increased security at the U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya prior to the Sept. 11 attack.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) excoriated the State Department for rejecting requests from the U.S. Embassy in Libya for an extension of temporary security forces that were withdrawn in the months prior to the attack that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

In a dramatic moment at the hearing, Issa released unclassified cables from March and July that the State Department had refused to release, detailing those requests.

One cable, written by then Amb. Gene Cretz, noted that three Mobile Security Detachments [MSD], consisting of 18 personnel, and the Site Security Team [SST], consisting of 16 personnel, were about to leave their temporary assignments. He said that the Libya mission needed both an extension of those forces and an increase in the number of permanent security officials in Libya.

The SST is a team of U.S. military personnel that was deployed to assist the embassy staff on a temporary basis for 60 days and then extended for another 60 days, but not extended for a third 60-day tour.

During the hearing, the top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August, placed the blame squarely on Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, whom they said was the official who denied those requests.

"All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources," Nordstrom testified, adding that Lamb had directly told him over the phone not to make the requests, but that Cretz decided to do it anyway.

"In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Lamb] ‘You cannot request an SST extension.' I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway," Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom, who said in his opening statement that he understood the balance needed to manage risk at high-threat posts to allow diplomats to do their work, criticized the State Department for failing to plan for security in Libya after the team's departure.

"Once the first team of [temporary personnel] expired, there was a complete and total lack of planning for what was going to happen next," he said. "There was no plan, there was just hope that everything would get better."

Nordstrom also said that he received a danger pay increase after the U.S. security teams left because the official assessment of the danger for U.S. personnel in Libya had increased.

Lamb defended her decision not to extend the missions of the MSD and SST teams, arguing that the mission of those teams had changed and that in any case they were replaced by local Libyan security personnel. The post had agreed that having only three diplomatic security agents in Benghazi was sufficient, she claimed.

""We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi on the night of 9/11," Lamb testified.

"That doesn't ring true to the American people," Issa responded.

Nordstrom said that Lamb never responded to the Tripoli embassy's request for continued security resources in what he considered a rejection, even if Lamb never issued a written objection. Lamb said that the U.S. mission in Libya had not been specific enough in its requests for forces, but Nordstrom pointed to the cables as evidence that was simply not true.

Lamb said that the specialized skills contained in the forces were being acquired by Libyan forces.

"We had been training local Libyans and arming them for almost a year," Lamb said. She also said that the extension of the SST in Tripoli "would not have made any difference in Benghazi."

Wood pointed out that the SST had traveled to Benghazi at least twice to help protect the top U.S. official at that mission, dismissing the idea that local Libya forces could have the same specialized skills as by the U.S. security personnel that were removed.

"We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met," Wood testified.

Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy said he disagreed with Lamb and was inclined to support an extension of the SST mission in Libya -- before he was cut off by Issa because time had expired.

Kennedy and Lamb were also pressed several times to explain why senior officials including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made statements in the days after the attack describing it as a reaction to an anti-Islam video, considering that the State Department was monitoring the events that night in real time.

Kennedy suggested that another government agency was to blame.

"There were reports that we received that there were protests, and I would not go any further than that," Kennedy said, citing a reluctance to go into detail in open session. Other officials, including Rice, have said that they based their comments on the intelligence community's initial, albeit caveated, assessment.

But Wood testified that there was no way anyone who was following the events in real time could conclude the attacks were anything but a terrorist attack.

"It was instantly recognizable as a terrorist attack. We almost expected the attack to come. It was a matter of time," Wood said. "[Al Qaeda's] presence grows there every day. They are certainly more established there than we are."

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