Vice President Joe
Biden will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this weekend in Munich and National Security Advisor
Tom Donilon will travel to Moscow
next month to try to kick-start a new round of U.S.-Russia nuclear reduction
negotiations, The Cable has learned.
It was four years ago at the Munich Security
Conference that Biden first
spoke about the Obama administration's desire to "reset"
U.S.-Russian relations after years of deterioration during the George W. Bush
administration. Now, at the beginning of Obama's second term, Biden and Donilon
are leading the charge to reinvigorate that reset, following a series of
setbacks in the U.S.-Russia relationship that has included President Vladimir Putin accusing the United
States of meddling in Russian politics, anger over a new U.S. law to sanction
Russian human rights violators, and a new Russian ban on Americans adopting
At their meeting last March on the sidelines of the
Nuclear Security Summit in South Korea, President Barack Obama was caught
on a hot mic telling then President Dmitry Medvedev that after the November
2012 election he would have more "flexibility," a comment many interpreted to
mean Obama would be able to sidestep potential political opposition to changes
he wanted to make to America's nuclear posture and missile defense plans.
an interview last week in Davos with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Medvedev explained that
Obama was signaling he would have more negotiating power on these subjects, but
said that the two countries were still quite far apart.
"Any U.S. president during his second term can take
a stronger position and act in a more decisive manner, and that is exactly what
Barack meant," Medvedev said. "But if we talk about the subject itself, it is extremely
difficult, and so far we don't see any flexibility. There are no easy solutions
in terms of anti-missile defense. There is no flexibility. We have not changed
our previous positions. The U.S. has one opinion, and the Russian Federation,
unfortunately, has a different opinion. These positions are not getting any
Some in Congress are concerned that Biden and
Donilon, in their upcoming meetings with Russian leaders, will define exactly
what that "flexibility" might mean and propose unilateral reductions in U.S.
nuclear stockpiles or alterations to U.S. missile-defense plans as an
enticement for Russia to sit down for new talks.
"Ahead of your unannounced discussions with Russian Foreign Minister
Lavrov this weekend in Munich, and prior to Mr. Donilon's forthcoming February
discussions in Moscow, I write seeking your assurance as to President Obama's
plans for future potential U.S. arms reductions," Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), the chairman of the House Armed Services
Strategic Forces Subcommittee, wrote
in a letter to Biden Wednesday that was obtained by
Following the bitter and lengthy fight in 2010 over
ratification of New START, the U.S.-Russia treaty that capped the number of
strategic deployed nuclear weapons on both sides and renewed an intricate
verification regime, Rogers and other Republicans are worried that the Obama administration might not pursue a
new treaty, but rather strike a deal with Russia that won't have to be approved
by Congress ... or just reduce U.S. nuclear stockpiles unilaterally.
Rogers pointed out in the letter that as a senator
in 2002, Biden joined with Sen. Jesse
Helms to write to then Secretary of State Colin Powell to remind him that "with the exception of the SALT 1
agreement, every significant arms control agreement during the past three decades
has been transmitted to the Senate pursuant to the Treaty Clause of the
"Mr. Secretary, we see no reason whatsoever to alter
this practice," Biden and Helms wrote at the time.
Donilon intends to transmit a personal letter to
Putin from Obama "articulating his plans for further U.S. arms reductions and
perhaps even agreements about U.S. missile defenses to entice Russia to the
negotiating table," Rogers wrote.
The National Security Staff and the Office of the
Vice President declined to comment for this story and declined to offer any
response to Rogers's letter.
Russia experts acknowledge that a new arms control
agreement with Moscow will be difficult but say that the White House is
committed to exploring whether it is possible. Obama is personally driving this
policy and sees nuclear weapons reductions, as spelled out in his 2009
speech in Prague, as part of his legacy.
"The Donilon visit seems to be all
about the next round [of nuclear reduction negotiations]," said Samuel Charap, a fellow at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies who until recently worked in the
arms control office at the State Department. "The president is serious about
the whole Prague agenda thing. He wasn't making that up."
There is no clarity on which types
of weapons might be included in the next round of U.S.-Russia arms control
negotiations, but the administration is said to be open to including strategic
deployed nukes, strategic non-deployed nukes, tactical nukes, and missile
defense in the talks.
"The question is what kind of
package you can put together with those four pieces to make a deal and what's
the point of the deal," Charap said. "It's harder to make a compelling case to
arms control skeptics here and there about why you need another agreement now.
There's going to have to be a three-way balancing act between the interagency,
Congress, and the Russians -- if the administration decides to pursue a new
Pifer of the Brookings Institution
recently released a report and an article
spelling out some ideas for how a deal could be done outside the framework of a
formal treaty that would have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate. The crux of
the deal would be a cooperative agreement between NATO and Russia on missile
defense, Pifer argued.
"Experts from the Pentagon and Russian Defense Ministry reportedly held
productive exchanges in early 2011 regarding what a cooperative missile defense
arrangement would entail... Progress slowed in spring 2011, when Russia took the
position that it required a ‘legal guarantee' that U.S. missile defenses would
not be directed against Russian strategic forces," he wrote.
"If Moscow is prepared to move off of its
requirement for a legal guarantee, and Washington and NATO are prepared to show
some greater transparency and flexibility in their approach, one can see the
elements of a compromise that would allow agreement on a cooperative
NATO-Russia missile defense arrangement."
If the missile-defense issue were removed
as an obstacle, a path toward an agreement on further nuclear weapons
reductions would open up, the theory goes.
The State Department's International Security Advisory Board (ISAB), which reports to acting Under Secretary for Arms Control Rose Gottemoeller, issued a report last November spelling out how further
nuclear reductions might be achieved, with or without the cooperation of the
Senate or the Russians.
The ISAB presented options for three
the New START Treaty reductions early; working with Russia on transparency and
verification of nonstrategic nuclear weapons; and engaging in parallel nuclear
arms reductions to levels below New START, if Russia is willing to
and coordinated reductions can be quicker and less politically costly ... relative
to treaties with adversarial negotiations and difficult ratification
processes," the report stated.
critics are already preparing to fight any attempt by the White House to push
forward with nuclear reductions absent the consent of the Senate.
should block end-runs around the Constitution's treaty clause," wrote Bush administration officials John Bolton and John Yoo in a Wall
Street Journal op-ed last month. "An
informal agreement would prevent effective congressional scrutiny of the unwise
rush to slash the nuclear arsenal, America's ultimate national-security
safeguard and a crucial buttress of world peace."
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