The Cable

Bob Dole to confront Senate Republicans on U.N. disabilities treaty

The Senate will hold a showdown Tuesday over a U.N. treaty to protect people with disabilities, and former Republican Sen. Bob Dole will take to the Senate floor to try to ensure Republicans don't kill Senate ratification of the pact.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration and would codify in international law most of the rights afforded to disabled people currently enshrined in American law since the passage of the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The convention was adopted in 2008 and the United States signed it in 2009, but the Senate has yet to ratify it. It has been ratified by 125 countries and the European Union.

The treaty was expected to get broad bipartisan support in the Senate, which passed the original ASA 91-6. But after a wave of opposition emerged last month, a procedural vote to move the treaty forward last week in the Senate only passed 61-36, and 66 votes are needed to ratify the treaty for Tuesday's vote.

The Cable has learned that Dole will use his privileges as a former senator to be on the Senate floor Tuesday during the debate and vote on the treaty in a dramatic effort to force any Republicans who intended to vote against the treaty to walk past him to do so.

The eleventh-hour opposition is related to the opposition of some Senate Republicans and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA). Santorum claims the treaty "would put the state in the position of determining what is in the best interest of a disabled child," and allow the government to overrule parents when making decisions about their disabled children.

Santorum held a press conference late last month with his own disabled daughter and Rep. Mike Lee (R-UT), who decried the treaty as an assault on American sovereignty. Lee is touting a September letter signed by 36 senators stating they did not want to ratify any treaties during this lame duck session of Congress. That letter was intended to prevent ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, but now Lee is seeking to apply it to the disabilities treaty as well.

The Heritage Foundation's advocacy arm, Heritage Action, has also taken up the cause of opposing the treaty based on the idea it infringes upon American sovereignty. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council claimed, "The global community could force America to sanction sterilization or abortion for the disabled -- at taxpayer expense."

In a press conference Monday, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ), called those assertions "ridiculous" and unfounded. They were joined by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the only quadriplegic member of Congress, and Republican Dick Thornburgh, the former U.S. attorney general and governor of Pennsylvania.

"Anyone who suggests that this committee is a threat to American sovereignty is simply not telling the truth," Kerry said. "This treaty does not require one change in American law. This treaty does not require or permit anybody to go to court in America. It merely sets a standard in the rest of the world to lift up their treatment of people with disabilities... What it does is make it easier for Americans with disabilities, for veterans with disabilities, to travel, work live, study, and visit overseas. That's all it does."

"If any vote should be able to get outside of the dysfunction that has ground Washington to a halt, this is that vote," Kerry said.

Kerry pointed out that 19 treaties have been passed during lame-duck sessions, including the New START nuclear reductions pact with Russia ratified in the last lame-duck session in 2010. He also pointed out that next year there will be more Democrats in the Senate, suggesting passage will be easier in 2013.

"We can't let interest groups outside here who have whatever interests they have to simply disregard the facts or completely distort or rewrite them. Some people are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill," Kerry said.

McCain agreed. "It is not an infringement on American sovereignty. Actually, it is an expansion of the American example and the American ideal throughout the world," he said.

McCain then emphasized the role of Dole, who has been working hard behind the scenes to ensure American support.

"There's an old man who's been in and out of Walter Reed quite a bit lately. He was our inspiration in the Senate when we passed the ACA 25 years ago. He is committed and he has urged us to act. I think it would be a fitting legacy for one Robert Dole of Russell, Kansas, if we could pass this legislation so he could have one more celebration."

Monday happens to be the international day designated to honor people with disabilities, and Dole will receive a congressional award honoring his decades of work on the issue Tuesday.

Durbin noted that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee dealt with several of the specific concerns of some Republicans, such as amendments to ratification legislation making explicit that nothing in the treaty would alter U.S. law on abortion or home schooling.

"These issues have nothing to do with this treaty and we've made that expressly clear," Durbin said. "This has reached a new height of legal mendacity and political conspiracy."

The vote is expected to be close, however, and supporters are hoping that some GOP senators who voted against the procedural motion on the bill will ultimately vote for ratification. Several senators are believed to have no substantive objections to the bill but may have voted against the procedural motion due to the fact they signed the letter opposing lame-duck session treaty ratifications.

Key GOP senators to watch on the vote include Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Roberts (R-KS).

In one light-hearted exchange during the press conference, McCain responded to Kerry's introduction by saying, "Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary," a reference to Kerry's potential nomination to be secretary of state.

"Thank you very much, Mr. President," Kerry responded. "See, this is what happens when you get two losers up here, folks. We're just having fun."

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The Cable

Georgian foreign minister: Saakashvili officials are ‘criminals and guilty'

The former officials being targeted for prosecution in Georgia following that country's recent transfer of power are "criminals and guilty" and have perpetrated crimes worse than Watergate, Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze said Friday in an exclusive interview with The Cable.

Panjikidze also said, in remarks certain to be controversial back home, that residents of the Russian-occupied territories of Abkhasia and South Ossetia, formerly part of Georgia, have a "choice" as to whether they want to be part of Georgia or part of Russia.

But it's her remarks about the recent wave of arrests in Tbilisi that may get her in hot water with Washington.

In the weeks since the Georgian Dream Party, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, won parliamentary elections, high-level U.S. and European officials have expressed concern that the prosecutions -- amounting thus far to 23 officials of the previous government for alleged crimes including corruption and torture -- are politically motivated.

"You can think it's political revenge. It's not. It's to restore the rule of law. It's not selective justice," Panjikidze said. "This is not political harassment. These are not political leaders. They are public servants and they have been involved in worse acts than Watergate in the United States."

Panjikidze insisted that the new Georgian government is not involved in the prosecutions or trying to influence the judicial process. But she is sure they are not innocent.

"Cohabitation [with the opposition] is very important, but it doesn't mean that we have to ignore that these people are criminals and guilty," she said. "There is no influence from the prime minister or from other members of the government... These people are simply criminals."

 "We have evidence that there is something wrong with these people," she said. "The signs that they are guilty are already there and the prosecutors' office already delivered evidence to that."

Those remarks will do little to reassure Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, prior to her Thursday meeting with Panjikidze, urged the new Georgian government to play by the rules.

"We do hope that everything that is done with respect to prosecuting any potential wrongdoers is done transparently in accord with due process and the rule of law as is befitting of the Georgia dream and the aspirations and sensitivities of the Georgian people," Clinton said.

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland went a step further and urged the new Georgian government to ensure "that there not be even the appearance of any political motivation in prosecutions."

The Cable asked Panjikidze whether President Mikheil Saakashvili himself may face investigation and prosecution when he steps down from office at the end of next year.

"I don't know, I can't tell that to you because it's an independent body and I have nothing to do with it," she said.

Outside observers are skeptical of the new government's assertion that the prosecution of so many former officials so quickly after the elections is a coincidence, especially since the promise of such actions was part of the bitter campaign that brought the new government to power.

"The promise that officials would be punished helped propel the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili to victory in October parliamentary elections, dislodging the group of politicians who had controlled Georgia for nine years," the New York Times noted Friday.

For all the concern in Western capitals about the direction of Georgia's domestic politics, Panjikidze's message is that the new government is not going to change its foreign-policy priorities. The new Georgian government wants to pursue European Union and NATO membership as soon as possible, strengthen relations with the United States, and improve relations with its neighbors, she said. Georgia intended to keep its troops in Afghanistan past 2014 to assist with the training and advising of Afghan security forces.

The new Georgian government also wants to pursue dialogue with Russia, she said, but admitted that Russia refuses to begin that dialogue due to the Georgian government's position on Abkhasia and South Ossetia, which is that the territories must be returned immediately.

Panjikidze struggled to explain how the new Georgian government plans to achieve those objectives and break a stalemate that has lasted since August 2008, when Russian troops rolled across the border and wrested away control in a short, sharp war that lasted five days.

Georgia has to improve its own internal conditions to convince the people in Abkhasia and South Ossetia to decide to rejoin Georgia of their own accord, she said.

"The plan is to make the country as attractive as possible for Abkhasians and Ossetians and to give them the choice of what is better, to be inside Georgia or to be part of Russia," she said. "If we will be able to build the confidence between us and develop our country and show everybody inside and outside it's a democratic country, it will be attractive for everybody and they will see an opportunity for development and prosperity inside Georgia."

Ivanishvili pledged shortly after the election that his first overseas visit would be to the United States and he was expected to visit this month, but that visit has now been postponed for reasons that both parties declined to explain.

Panjikidze said Ivanishivili hopes to come to Washington next year. "He has a lot of things to do at home," she said.

This week, Ivanishivili accused the Washington Post editorial board of conspiring with Saakashvili and his Washington lobbyists to criticize the new Georgian government in commentary that harshly criticized the arrests of the former officials.

"The magnate-turned-prime minister said last week that his first official visit to the United States had been postponed, which is a good thing," the Post said in an editorial Friday. "As long as he is imprisoning opposition leaders and seeking to monopolize power, Georgia's new leader should not be welcome in Washington."

Reacting at a subsequent press conference in Tbilisi, Ivanishvili lashed out at the Post.

"It is amazing and I will find out how [Saakashvili] managed that such an editorial appeared [in the Washington Post]. Our president has had only one thing organized well. This is what he is currently engaged in. This is all he got. He does lobbying as much as he can. He has this system set well," he said.

Asked about Ivanishvili's own cadre of Washington lobbyists, which has included Patton Boggs and BGR Group, Panjikidze said "We don't have lobbyists." When confronted with the list of lobbyists on IvanshivilI's payroll, she said those lobbyists' contracts would not be continued.

"That was in the campaign. That is not now."