President Obama is personally committed to pushing for a Senate vote on the New START treaty during this lame duck session of Congress. But he's going to Europe tonight, so he's ordering Vice President Joseph Biden to make it happen.
"As Senator [Harry] Reid said yesterday, there is time on the Senate calendar to get this treaty ratified this year. So I've asked Vice President Biden to focus on this issue day and night until it gets done," Obama said just before he met with top Cabinet officials and pro-treaty senators at the White House Thursday.
"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year, he said. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."
The president also appealed to the spirit of bipartisanship that has led to unity in support for many, but not all, past international arms treaties.
"As Ronald Reagan said, ‘we have to trust, but we also have to verify.' In order for us to verify, we've got to have a treaty," he said. "And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America's national security will be weakened."
What Obama didn't explain was how the administration intends to convince the Senate GOP leadership to agree to a vote this year. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has said he doesn't think there's enough time this year to finish work on the treaty, and 10 incoming Republican senators wrote on Thursday that they deserved the opportunity to weigh in after they are seated next year.
When asked whether he thought the treaty would pass this year, Obama simply stated, "I'm confident that we should be able to get the votes."
The meeting included Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger, former Secretaries of Defense William Cohen and William Perry, former National Security Advisor Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, and former Sen. Sam Nunn.
Obama's full remarks after the jump:
Ten of the new incoming Republican senators Thursday are planning to demand they get a say on the New START treaty, adding ten new voices to the growing cacophony pushing for a delay in consideration of the treaty until next year.
"On Election Day we were elected to represent the constituents of our respective states in the Senate," the incoming Republicans wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), in a letter (PDF) obtained by The Cable. "Out of respect for our states' voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New START Treaty or any other treaty in a lame duck session prior to January 3, 2011."
The letter was organized by Senator elect Roy Blunt (R-MO) and was signed by both moderate and conservative incoming senators such as Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Rand Paul (R-KY).
The letter places yet another obstacle in the way of the Obama administration's intensive drive to hold a debate and ratification vote for the treaty this year. President Obama himself is meeting Thursday with top members of his cabinet and key senators, not including GOP treaty leader Jon Kyl, R-AZ, to devise a strategy to figure out how to take up the treaty now.
Intensive backroom negotiations between Kyl and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) yesterday still did not convince Kyl to back away from his Tuesday statement that there's just not enough time during the lame duck session of Congress to consider the treaty. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday doubled down on her call for swift consideration of the treaty as a matter of urgent national security, but GOP senators maintain they still haven't received the details of Obama's $84 billion pledge for nuclear modernization and the updated report on modernization that accompanies it.
But all that could be moot if the new GOP argument is to be that the newly elected Senators-to-be have a right to be a part of the process. That's what Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who actually voted for the treaty in committee, told The Cable on Wednesday. And that's what those senators-elect are demanding now.
In the letter, the senators-elect already indicate that they have real concerns with the treaty and might not support ratification. First of all, the letter argues that the New START treaty "would dramatically reduce the U.S. nuclear deterrent in a strategic environment that is becoming ever more perilous." That's an assertion the administration would disagree with strongly.
Secondly, the senators-elect are demanding that the administration turn over the full negotiating record between the U.S. and Russia, which they call "a critically important component in putting the pact in full context." The administration has no intention of meeting that demand.
Overall, the letter shows that if the START treaty is delayed until next year, the path toward ratification in 2011 could be a really slow, long one.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) told The Cable Wednesday that he believes Senate GOP leadership is simply trying to avoiding debating the treaty altogether, in order to protect members from having to take what they consider a tough vote.
Tea Party groups and the Heritage Action for American lobbying organization have been targeting GOP senators, including Kyl, warning them that a vote in favor of New START could be used against them in a primary challenge in 2012.
"Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now," Lugar said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote."
Read the full text of the letter after the break
In a stunning rebuke to members of his own caucus, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) said on Wednesday that the GOP is intentionally trying to put off a vote on the New START treaty with Russia, and avoiding a serious discussion about the treaty within the caucus.
"At the moment, the Republican caucus is tied up in a situation where people don't want to make choices," Lugar told reporters in the hallway of the Capitol building Wednesday. "No one wants to be counted. No one wants to talk about it."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a big show on Wednesday morning of doubling down on the administration's drive for a vote to ratify the treaty during the lame duck session of Congress. Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) expressed confidence that a deal with Republicans and their leader on New START, Jon Kyl (R-AZ), was close at hand.
But according to Lugar, the Republican leadership is preventing a debate on the treaty for the rest of the year because they don't want to force their rank-and-file members to take a position on the agreement.
Kerry and Kyl continued to meet on Wednesday, ostensibly to work out a deal based on the $84 billion the administration is promising Kyl for nuclear modernization in exchange for his support of the treaty. Kyl told The Cable that negotiations were going forward "in good faith," but Lugar suggested that's all a smoke screen and that the Republican leadership is committed to avoiding completion of the treaty for the foreseeable future.
"Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now," he said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote."
Lugar argued that the intransigence within the Republican caucus is a result of the leadership's unwillingness to put current GOP senators in the crosshairs of the debate before the political terrain shifts in the Republicans' favor when the new Congress is sworn in.
"If you're a Republican, you anticipate that the lay of the land is going to be much more favorable in January and therefore would say, ‘If we do not have to make tough choices now, why make tough choices?'" Lugar explained.
Lugar wants the Democratic Senate leadership to cut off negotiations immediately and force a vote on New START now, to compel senators to get off the fence and to end the endless stalling coming from his own side of the aisle.
"I'm advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay [even if there's no deal]," he said. "I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."
Delaying until next year is a worst case scenario that could delay the treaty's ratification for months or even years as new senators request additional time to study the issue, and the committee process begins all over again, he said.
"Endless hearings, markup, back to trying to get some time on the floor... It will be some time before the treaty is ever heard from again," Lugar said.
Lugar also warned that the failure to ratify the treaty could have drastic consequences for other facets of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation -- especially the Nunn-Lugar effort to secure loose nuclear materials throughout the former Soviet Union.
If START fails, the cooperation between the United States and Russia on securing loose nukes could be imperiled, representing an even bigger risk for national security, Lugar said.
"There are still thousands of missiles out there. You better get that through your heads," he said, directing his comments to members of his own party.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing alongside Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), dug in Wednesday morning on the administration's call for the New START treaty with Russia to be ratified this year.
Clinton spoke to the press after attending an early morning meeting in the Capitol building that included Kerry, Lugar, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), Senate Appropriations Committee ranking Republican Thad Cochran (R-MS), Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee ranking Republican Judd Gregg (R-NH), and others.
The key GOP vote on New START, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), did not attend. The meeting was meant to gather bipartisan support for the increased appropriations the administration plans to request for nuclear modernization -- some $4.1 billion for fiscal 2012, on top of the $80 billion the administration has promised for modernization over the next 10 years.
Clinton spoke about the administration's effort to get Congress to agree to the funding in advance, in order to satisfy Kyl. "We will continue to intensify those discussions in the coming days, and we're confident that there well may be a bipartisan consensus emerging on the need for such funding," she said.
She also argued that the Senate's action this year on New START would be an indicator of how the GOP intends to work with the administration during the next Congressional session.
"This is exactly what the American people expect us to do, to come together and do what is necessary to protect our country. We can and we must go forward now on the New START treaty during the lame duck session," Clinton said.
The idea is to assure Kyl that the modernization money is guaranteed, even though the fiscal 2012 budget request won't be released until February. That was one of the demands Kyl made in exchange for his support, which could bring along a significant portion of the GOP caucus.
Administration officials traveled all the way to Arizona late last week to present the broad outlines of the administration's latest offer to Kyl personally. But Tuesday morning, Kyl issued a statement that said he did not believe there was enough time in the lame duck session of Congress to debate and vote on the treaty. Aides told The Cable that Kyl was still waiting to see details of the offer in writing, along with an updated report on nuclear modernization.
The Tuesday morning statement came as a shock to the administration, which had thought a deal with Kyl was imminent. Administration sources say its timing showed a potential lack of good faith by Kyl. The statement came just days after the trip to Arizona and exactly one day before Kyl was set to meet with Kerry, Clinton, Vice President Joseph Biden, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the White House.
Our Congressional sources said that meeting, scheduled for today, has now been cancelled. But Kerry met Kyl later on Wednesday morning, and told The Cable he is now meeting regularly with Kyl on the issue. Kyl told The Cable Wednesday that negotiations are ongoing.
Overall, the message from Clinton on Wednesday was that the treaty must be done this year, that it represents a risk to national security not to have a treaty in place, and that the administration would continue working with senators to get a vote before the year's end.
Despite Kyl's latest statement, which the administration viewed as extremely unhelpful, Kerry told The Cable Tuesday that he "takes Kyl at his word that he is negotiating in good faith."
Regardless, statements by other senators Tuesday that consideration of the treaty should be delayed until next year also damaged the administration's push for a vote. Senators who are now calling for delay include Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treaty in committee, and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE).
Kerry's message Wednesday was that he believes there are no disagreements on substance between Democrats and Republicans on New START, that he would do whatever was necessary to address senators' concerns, and that since this Congress has done the work on New START, it's this Congress that should vote on it.
"We have reached out for months," Kerry said Wednesday. "As of today, the last questions posed by some senators have been answered."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key Republican vote in the drive to ratify the New START treaty, said Tuesday he doesn't believe the treaty should be voted on this year.
"When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization," Kyl said in a statement. "I appreciate the recent effort by the Administration to address some of the issues that we have raised and I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Kerry, DOD, and DOE officials." ?
Kyl spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about it last week. A possible meeting between Kyl, Biden, Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the works and could happen on Wednesday. The treaty was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 14 to 4 on Sept. 16, and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
The Washington Post reported that the White House is offering an additional $4.1 billion for nuclear facilities. This latest offer comes on top of the other promises related to nuclear modernization, which have a price tag totaling over $80 billion, that the administration has offered in an effort to win over Senate Republicans.
A senior administration official, speaking to the Financial Times, warned if the treaty isn't ratified this year, all that money for the nuclear complex could go away. "There is a risk that not moving ahead [in the Senate now] could shatter the fragile consensus on modernizing the nuclear complex," the official said.
But a senior GOP aide tells The Cable on Tuesday that the GOP senators haven't actually received the new offer of money for the nuclear labs, nor have they received an updated version of a classified report on the nation's nuclear complex, known as the "1251 report."
"There was no offer of $4 billion for modernization. The administration hasn't even delivered the new 1251 plan yet," the aide said. When asked what this means for START ratification during the lame duck session, the aide said, "The administration's eleventh hour bid is coming two hours too late."
Administration officials say privately that they are becoming increasingly frustrated with Kyl, and increasingly skeptical that he is negotiating in good faith. They even sent a team to Arizona to present him with the administration's response to his requests, including the broad outlines of the additional $4 billion offer for modernization, one official said.
According to this administration official, Kyl asked the administration to secure the full 2011 budget request for modernization, to expedite the budget process for 2012, to show him the 2012 budget request before the Senate vote on New START, and to update the long-term plan that was submitted to Congress in May on modernization.
"They asked us for certain things, we worked through the process to give it to them," the administration source said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is waiting for the administration to strike a deal with Kyl before scheduling the debate and vote on New START. Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told The Hill, "Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year."
Meanwhile, senior administration officials keep driving home their message that New START must be done during the lame duck.
"Before this session of Congress ends, we urge senators to approve an arms control treaty that would again allow U.S. inspectors access to Russian strategic sites and reduce the number of nuclear weapons held by both nations to a level not seen since the 1950s," wrote Gates and Clinton in a Washington Post op-ed Monday. "Time is running out for this Congress."
President Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week that he was committed to ratifying the treaty during the lame duck session, calling it his "top foreign policy priority" for the rest of the year.
Some top Democrats are also calling for the treaty to be postponed until next year.
"I'm a firm yes vote, but the lame duck session should focus on jobs, the economy, and reducing the debt," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told The Cable. "We can take care of the START treaty after the first of the year."
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said Wednesday that he still believes the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia can be ratified during the lame duck session of Congress, despite calls from several Republican senators for more time to consider the agreement.
"I'm very hopeful. My expectation is that we're going to try to move to the START treaty and get the START treaty done, because it's a matter of national security," Kerry said on a conference call. "I would think [December] is likely, just given the overall schedule and the Thanksgiving break."
Kerry was calling from Israel, the last leg of his overseas trip that included stops in Sudan, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. He said he spoke Wednesday to the committee's ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), Vice President Joseph Biden, and that he put in a call to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key GOP leader on New START.
In remarks last week, Lugar wondered aloud whether there would be enough time to complete work on the treaty during the lame duck session and stated that some GOP senators would be opposed to taking up the treaty this year. Last week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treay in the committee, told The Cable he would prefer if the debate and vote were delayed until the next session of Congress.
But Kerry said Lugar's only concern was about whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would set aside enough floor time to properly vet the treaty. "[Lugar] is committed to doing it provided that Harry Reid is committed to putting it on the floor and giving it the time," Kerry said. Kerry and President Obama both have spoken to Reid about this. "[Reid] wants to get this done," Kerry said.
Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told The Hill, "Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year."
Manley is referring to the package of incentives Biden is putting together for Kyl in addition to the $80 billion the administration already pledged for nuclear modernization and nuclear stockpile maintenance. Biden has been working the phones with GOP senators and spoke with Kyl very recently, Kerry said.
Meanwhile, GOP fence-sitters John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this week at the Halifax National Security Forum that they want to see the New START treaty issue resolved, but they just don't know if it will happen.
"I'd like for us to resolve the START treaty issue, whether we will or not is just not clear to me," McCain said, without indicating whether he wanted to resolve it by passing it or voting it down.
Graham seemed to indicate he was for the treaty.
"I certainly am leaning towards, I definitely want a treaty because if you can reduce the number of launch vehicles and the number of warheads and still have a nuclear deterrent, that's a good move because it reduces your cost," he said. "So the trade I'm looking for is with the administration, that we'll negotiate a treaty with good numbers as long as you modernize the force that's left... I don't know if there's momentum for that in the lame duck or not."
If the Senate vote on the New START nuclear reduction treaty with Russia is postponed until next year, the new Tea Party-affiliated senators are likely to vote no.
"I think we need to have more discussion on it, but it doesn't sound like that I'm probably going to be in favor of that," Kentucky Republican Senator-elect Rand Paul said on ABC's This Week on Sunday.
"Some of it is the devil's in the details there, and I need to know more about it before making an immediate decision," he said.
Paul, who is a leader of the Tea Partiers though with more libertarian inclinations, added that the Tea Party has no real foreign policy, but that its members are likely to unify around core principles when they descend on Washington next week.
"I think the Tea Party believes in a strong national defense, that it's a priority for our country, that the Constitution exemplifies and says that national defense is one of our priorities. But, no, primarily the Tea Party is about the debt," said Paul, who also said he supports cuts in the overall defense budget as part of his drive for deficit cuts.
John Isaacs, the executive director of the Council for a Livable World, an arms control organization that supports New START, said Paul's opposition made sense in light of Tea Parties opposition to increased government activity both at home and abroad.
"We never expected him to vote for it. Anybody who is from the Tea Party is not likely to support the treaty," said Isaacs. Yes votes are equally unlikely from other Tea Party-affiliated freshman senators, such as Florida Republican Senator-elect Marco Rubio.
Meanwhile, Tea Party groups are trying to raise public opposition to the treaty, with the help of Heritage Action for America, the new lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation.
But the Tea Party senators will only get to weigh in on New START if the administration's plan to vote on the treaty during this year's lame duck session of Congress falls apart. Isaacs said the key to making a vote happen during the lame duck session was whether the administration could cut a deal with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
"I still think there's a very good possibility that the treaty will be considered in a lame duck," said Isaacs. If the treaty vote is pushed to next year, that could mean further delays as the new Congress reorganizes its committee assignments. "A delay for the next two months is probably a delay for five months," Isaacs said.
Various GOP senators have been saying that there might not be enough time in the lame duck session to debate and vote on the treaty, noting that they still have several outstanding questions despite extensive administration efforts to defend and explain the agreement.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told The Cable he didn't think the lame duck was the right time to finish the treaty, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed doubt that there was enough time to complete work on New START this year.
Arms control advocates are still hoping that McConnell and Kyl can be convinced to go along with taking up the issue before half a dozen new GOP senators come to town next year. "He could have said ‘absolutely not,' but he didn't say that at all," Isaacs said about McConnell's remarks.
The Arms Control Association is hosting a public event all day Monday to discuss strategy for the rest of the year and showcase the arguments for the treaty.
John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, told ABC's This Week that McConnell's decision over the treaty would be a clear signal of how the Republicans plan to work with -- or against -- President Obama on foreign policy during the next two years.
"I think one of the early tests will be whether the Senate will take up the New START treaty, which has bipartisan support, in a lame-duck session," he said.
Even if the treaty is voted on in the lame duck session, there will be two new senators who have not yet disclosed how they intend to vote: Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). Both are open to the overall idea of arms control but both will need to be convinced to sign on the line when it comes to New START.
President Obama doubled down Thursday on the need to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia during the post-election lame duck session of Congress, echoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call on Sept. 30. But one Republican senator who voted for the treaty is convinced it's better to push the vote back until next year.
"This is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue, but rather an issue of American national security," Obama said. "And I am hopeful that we can get that done before we leave (at the end of the year) and send a strong signal to Russia that we are serious about reducing nuclear arsenals, but also send a signal to the world that we're serious about nonproliferation."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), one of three Republicans to vote for the treaty on Sept. 16 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hasn't yet committed to voting for the treaty on the floor. He now says that he doesn't think there's enough time in the post-election congressional session to properly debate and vote on the pact.
"Senator Corker believes it is far more appropriate to deal with major pieces of legislation like this in settings other than a lame duck session," Todd Womack, his chief of staff, told The Cable.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar (R-IN), who supports the treaty, has been calling for the Senate to act faster and would have preferred to deal with the issue before the midterm elections. But Lugar did acknowledge in Oct. 27 remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations that big gains by the GOP in the election would make completing the Senate's work on New START more difficult.
"Some, I suspect, will argue that the lame-duck session is not a good time to do that," Lugar said. "I have no idea what the results will be of the election, but in the event that there are very substantial changes, and many of them on the Republican side, some will say this is something we really haven't had a chance to get into, to study, and we want more time."
Lugar turned out to be right. Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who is leading the ratification effort in the Senate, has said he only needs two or three days of floor time to give everybody a chance to air their views and consider "reservations" that senators may want to bring up and vote on.
Of course, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) can keep the Senate in session as long as he wants. It's a time-honored tactic in Congress to force senators to stay in town as the winter vacation approaches, thus making them choose between a principled stand on an issue and their desire to go home for the holidays.
And there is plenty of precedent for passing major legislation during lame duck sessions. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in the post-election period in 1970. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, a piece of legislation that served as the foundation on which the World Trade Organization was created was passed during the lame duck session in 1994, just after the last GOP wave election. In 2002, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security during the lame duck session.
There's also precedent for Congress passing treaties with bipartisan support after a changeover of control. The Senate provided advice and consent on the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty Flank Agreement after the Democrats lost control in 1994.
But that was then and this is now. And if Corker and Lugar are skeptical that the START treaty can be completed this year, the Russian Duma apparently agrees with them. The Duma repealed its recommendation for Russian ratification of New START immediately after the U.S. election results came in.
"If the 'lame duck' senators from the old make-up cannot do this in the next weeks then the chances of ratification in the new Senate will be radically lower than they were until now," Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, told the Interfax news agency.
If the treaty is pushed to next year, the more conservative Senate might not ratify it, Kosachev said.
"Many will be in principle against agreeing on anything with Russia. In that case we will have to start from scratch. That is the worst-case scenario -- completely awful. For now, I do not want to believe in it."
John Podesta, the president of the Center for American Progress, said Thursday on MSNBC that the GOP positioning on the START treaty will be an indicator of how the GOP plans to deal with Obama going forward. "Will Senator McConnell... get [START] done and go along with [the President]. ... If he says no we are just going to be into obstructionism and the just-say-no-party," Podesta said. "We'll at least know where the Republican leadership stands."
Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation's lobbying arm Heritage Action for American started sending out mailers to 10 states on Thursday, targeting GOP supporters on the treaty, GOP senators who are on the fence, and Democratic senators in red states. The mailer states that the treaty will "lead to more nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue countries like North Korea and Iran."
The administration is reportedly preparing a final package of promises on issues like nuclear modernization to try to garner the support of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key GOP vote, while simultaneously noting that, after holding dozens of hearings and answering hundreds of questions from the Hill, senators should have enough information to make their decision and move on the treaty now.
"There's no sense in putting off what we need now to the next Congress," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday.
"The Senate has a responsibility to do its job and not waste time," said treaty supporter Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "Further delaying a vote on New START hurts U.S. national security."
Following Tuesday's election, one of the biggest foreign policy questions is whether far-right groups will press mainstream Republicans to resist key items on the Obama administration's international agenda, such as the New START treaty with Russia.
Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, answered that question in the affirmative Thursday by sending out a new mailer across the country targeting specific senators, mostly Republicans, in the hope of pressuring them to vote against the treaty. The campaign targets Democratic senators in conservative states, Republican senators in liberal states, and even Republicans who have indicated support for New START, such as Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).
"Why did Senator Bob Corker vote in committee to put Russia's military interests ahead of our own," reads one iteration of the mailing, referring to Corker's vote to approve the treaty in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 16. With a picture juxtaposing the images of Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the mailer alleges that President Obama and lawmakers are using the "lame duck" session of Congress to ram through the New START treaty, which it argues "severely weakens our national security."
Heritage also alleges that the treaty, which would cut levels of the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons arsenals, would somehow lead to more nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, which the mailer refers to as "countries that want to destroy us."
"There's still time to put a stop to this dangerous plan," the mailer says. "You can make a difference by urging Sen. Corker to change his mind and oppose New START."
Responding directly to the mailer, Corker's Chief of Staff Todd Womack told The Cable that Heritage's mailer contains several errors and promotes several misconceptions about the New START treaty.
"Obviously if the claims made in the mailer were true, there is no way Senator Corker would support the treaty, but they are not. Senator Corker would never support a treaty that undermines the safety and security of the citizens of the United States or limits America's ability to pursue effective missile defense, and to suggest otherwise is irresponsible," Womack said.
Corker is also still awaiting firm commitments from the administration for what he considers long overdue investments in the modernization of the nuclear arsenal before committing to voting "yes" on the floor, he added.
Heritage's strategy includes targeting Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), considered to be the key vote on New START because he can potentially bring large parts of the GOP caucus in tow. The White House is said to be preparing new concessions on issues that Kyl has long advocated, such as even more funding for nuclear modernization and nuclear labs. So far, Kyl has not shown his cards.
The administration also has a fallback plan if Kyl ultimately balks: The State Department and the Vice President's office have been courting moderate Republicans, including Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, along with Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, in an attempt to peel off the 8 to 10 GOP votes needed to reach the 67-vote threshold for ratification. Though it seems unlikely that so many Senate Republicans would buck party leadership, the administration's earlier outreach to Corker and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) was helpful in getting both those senators to support the New START treaty in committee last month.
The Heritage effort targets all of those GOP senators, and also Democratic senators from red states such as Montana's Max Baucus and Jon Tester. In Utah, Bob Bennett has indicated he is inclined to support New START, making him a target as well.
Heritage has been working with presumptive 2012 candidate Mitt Romney on the issue. Other Tea Party-related groups such as Liberty Central, run by Clarence Thomas' wife Ginny Thomas, are also on board. But it's not clear that the New START treaty is an issue that voters really follow, much less vote on.
Heritage claims that it wants to pressure various senators to get off the fence and declare their position on New START, one way or the other.
"For too long, senators have stood quietly on the sidelines, refusing to take a firm stand on the issue," said Michael Needham, Heritage's chief executive officer. "Given the administration's desire to see the treaty ratified during a lame-duck session, Americans deserve to know what is at stake and where their senators stand."
On Thursday, President Obama called for the Senate to take up the treaty during the lame duck session. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is said to be waiting until the White House tells him that it has secured enough "yes" votes before scheduling floor time for the vote. The Senate returns to town with two new senators on Nov. 15, neither of whom has taken a position on New START.
The Obama administration has been touting its progress in negotiations with Russia over Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization, but the White House has no intention of helping Russia overcome the biggest remaining obstacle: Georgia.
National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers was in Moscow last week, where he announced that "the end is in sight" for U.S. -Russian agreement on outstanding bilateral issues, such as Russia's actions related to intellectual property rights. Summers also explained why Russia's WTO membership is in America's interest.
"The potential of this market for American business is very great... and it's important for the goal President Obama has set for doubling exports over the next five years," he said.
But after Russia has satisfied Washington's concerns on intellectual property protection, poultry issues, etc., it will have to choose whether or not to make concessions to Georgia. The two nations fought a limited war in 2008 and Russia still has troops deployed on Georgian soil to this day.
The Georgians may have been waiting for the Obama administration to approach them with an offer that would entice them to consent to Russia's WTO membership. Any one WTO country can veto Russian accession and Georgia is the leading candidate to do so. Russia may have been waiting for Washington to pressure Georgia to drop their objections. A senior administration official told The Cable that both sides can stop waiting because Washington is not going to get involved.
"This is a bilateral issue between Russia and Georgia, this is not a trilateral issue that we are supposed to solve somehow," the senior administration official said, explaining that the Obama administration has no intention of trying to exert influence on Georgia on this issue and will not offer any carrots or sticks to Tbilisi.
"People somehow think we are going to mediate this between the Russians and the Georgians. That's not our job," the official said.
The Obama administration's position is that Russia should make the first move. It is unlikely that there will be membership for Russia if basic borders and customs issues are not resolved with Georgia, the official said.
"That has to be done before Russia joins the WTO," the official said. "And as it is Russia who is seeking to join the WTO, we would see it as up to them to come up with a way to start negotiations."
So what does Georgia want from Russia? Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri spelled it out in an exclusive interview with The Cable.
"Georgia's support to Russia's WTO membership is conditional. The precondition is fulfillment of obligation taken by Russia in our bilateral accession protocol in 2004 and solving issues of customs administration on the Georgian-Russian border," he said. "Unregulated illegal trade as it takes place now is counter WTO rules. Russia should become member of this rules-based organization but only if it respects trade rules."
Of course, one huge problem is how to define the "Georgian-Russian border." If you are Georgia, that includes the borders between Russia and what the Obama administration calls the "occupied" Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Some experts believe there's a compromise that could square that circle. Damon Wilson, director of the International Security Program at the Atlantic Council, said there could be some international presence on the Russia-Abkhazia and Russia-South Ossetia border, similar to the arrangement in Transnistria, a disputed territory on the border of Moldova and the Ukraine.
But he agreed with the Obama administration official that the burden to begin resolving Russia-Georgia issues that lie in the way of WTO membership is on Russia, not Georgia.
"Too many people frame this as ‘are the Georgians going to be the spoiler.' That already puts the Georgians in a box," Wilson said. "The issue is, do the Russians want in the WTO or not and if so, what are they going to do?"
The Georgians are taking a reasonable position and are not trying to make a stink out of this, recognizing that their leverage is ultimately limited, he said. But their concerns are valid and represent a real trade concern that needs to be addressed.
"If Russia is going to be a part of this, it can't enter on day one with some sort of exception. The first sign is that the Russians need to come to the table and talk to the Georgians."
Wilson's views represent those of many in the Russia watching community in Washington who wonder if the Obama administration wants Russia to join the WTO more than Russia itself wants to join. After all, in addition to the economic benefits for the United States outlined by Summers, WTO membership for Russia is one deliverable Obama would like to point to as part of his "reset" policy.
"Russians have to want this," said David Kramer, former assistant secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. "Russians have to choose whether they work with the Georgians to solve the problem or whether it's more important for them to hold Georgia up as the obstacle."
Kramer, a frequent critic of the Obama reset policy, said the administration has taken exactly the right approach on this issue by putting the onus back on Russia and Georgia to work it out without U.S. mediation.
"Sure, [the administration] is looking to get some wins on the board for Russia reset, but the Bush administration was doing the same thing. If Bush was in office today, we'd be doing the START treaty and we'd be pushing WTO," Kramer said.
Meanwhile, there's a growing murmur on Capitol Hill that the path toward U.S. support for Russian WTO membership in Congress might not be as assured as the administration might hope. Congress must repeal the 35-year-old Jackson-Vanick law, which was meant to support then Soviet emigrants. The law as currently written prevents the U.S. from granting Russian Permanent Normal Trade Relations status.
"Russia would be under no obligation to comply with its commitments to the US made in bilateral accession negotiations and the US would have no recourse to WTO dispute-resolution mechanisms. Essentially, we would get none of the benefits of having Russia inside the rules-based system if Jackson-Vanik isn't repealed," said Samuel Charap, fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Although the Soviet emigrant issue no longer exists, a Republican-controlled Congress could resist that move due to concerns about Russia on any number of issues.
"When you look at the makeup of what the Congress is likely to look like next week, that's not the most auspicious setting for the administration's argument, so there would have be a serious push by the administration and supporters on the Hill to get this done," a senior GOP Congressional aide said.
Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger returned from a trip to Moscow with Silicon Valley executives with a strong message for those who are fighting against ratification of the New START nuclear treaty with Russia.
"There are those in America that are trying to flex their muscles and pretend they're ballsy by saying, ‘we've got to keep those nuclear weapons,'" the governator told the U.S.-Russia Business Council Oct. 21. "[They think] that's very rugged, when you say that. It's not rugged at all. It's an idiot that says that. It's stupid to say that."
He praised President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for signing the agreement to reduce both countries' stockpiles of nuclear weapons and said they were in the tradition of the arms control efforts by former President Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of State George Shultz.
He called on the Senate to ratify the treaty during the post election lame duck session in Congress, as the administration has been pushing for.
"So as soon as the election is over we've all got to concentrate so that Congress makes their move forward and does that so that we can go and live in a safer world. That's the most important thing," said Schwarzenegger.
He blamed the delay in ratifying the treaty on Congressional paralysis in the run up to the Nov. 2 election. "Now Congress has to go and agree with that and ratify it… They haven't done that because there is a paralysis in Washington, which is the sad story when you live here."
So who exactly is the former body builder turned movie star turned politician calling ballsy idiots? Well, four Senators came out against publicly START by voting against in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: John Barrasso (R-WY), James Risch (R-ID), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and James Inhofe (R-OK).
South Carolina senator and Tea Party funder Jim DeMint is a vocal opponent of New START, although he did not show up for the committee vote on the treaty. DeMint is an avowed skeptic of the U.S. effort to reset relations with Russia, which he still sometimes confuses with the Soviet Union.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), the administration's key (and only) GOP Senate ally on New START, told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday that a vote during the lame duck session might not be in the cards if Republicans score big gains on Nov. 2.
"I have no idea what the results of the election will be, but in the event that there are very substantial changes and many of them on the Republican side, some will say, ‘This [treaty] is something that we really haven't had a chance to get into and study, and we want more time,'" Lugar said, according to The Hill.
Meanwhile, Barrasso on Wednesday explicitly linked the New START treaty with an incident on Saturday morning where, according to the Atlantic, an ICBM squadron "went on the blink." The result was that 50 ICBM's were unavailable for launch for a short time. Some in the GOP seem to be adding this to the very long list of concerns they have with the treaty.
"The accident shows that the United States has far more nuclear weapons than it needs for any conceivable military mission. Even without the 50 ICBMs, the United States had 400 other ICBMs similarly armed ready to launch within 15 minutes," said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which supports ratification. "It also has 1500 additional warheads on 12 Trident submarines and a fleet of bombers ready to go. The New Start treaty trims that overkill capacity by a few hundred weapons over 7 years. We will still have enough destructive force in the US arsenal to destroy the planet."
The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government's gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country's democracy, according to Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.
"We have no democracy at all. We don't have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken from the people by the authorities," Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. "The power has replaced all institutions ... like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That's already obvious for everyone."
The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the "reset" policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.
"We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia... we would like these friends just to open their mouths," Kasyanov said, explaining that he will meet with academics and experts at the German Marshall Fund, the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia University, and other places. He neither sought nor was granted any meetings with U.S. government officials.
Kasyanov said that he supports the substantive aspects of President Obama's reset policy, such as cooperation on non-proliferation, but that a parallel track should be established to simultaneously exert pressure on Russian leadership to adhere to basic standards when it comes to human rights and freedom of expression.
"I would wish the reset process would become a little bit more principled, rather than closing its eyes to everything that's going on Russia in the sphere of public life and in the sphere of civil society," he said. "You shouldn't just change your principles, the values your government is standing on."
He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties.
"They just don't criticize anything, they don't produce any reports on any unacceptable developments... It's not principled, now it looks like the administration closes it eyes on anything that's going on in Russia," he said.
Right now, independent organizations are not allowed to participate in elections and virtually no new political group has been allowed to register itself as a recognized entity since 2004, according to Kasyanov. There is undue pressure on Russian non-governmental groups, such the arrest and trial of organizers who displayed a controversial art exhibit at the Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Community Center, a case that is now being referred to the European Court of Human Rights.
France and Germany are meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on such issues, but they are operating under the illusion that there could be some significant break between him and Putin on such issues, according to Kasyanov.
"What we need is just general support from the West... We need moral support," he said. "Right now, [Russian citizens] feel that Americans have just given up on Russia, that they are not interested at all."
Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC's Mike McFaul and the Kremlin's Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration's approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, "We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership."
"This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that's imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It's absolutely the wrong thing to do," Kasyanov said.
As for his take on the relationship between Medvedev and Putin, who some see as increasingly divergent on key issues, he explained, "Their relations are very simple, boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country."
When asked if he thinks Putin will run for President in 2012, he said, "I wouldn't say ‘run,' just step in."
UPDATE: A State Department officials confirms that Kasyanov was offered a meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Russel, but that the meeting didn't happen due to scheduling issues.
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
With all of the uncertainty surrounding the makeup of Congress following the Nov. 2 midterm elections, the Obama administration is pushing for a debate and vote on the New START nuclear reductions treaty before the membership of the Senate changes next January. Leading GOP senators, however, are doing everything they can to resist that plan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear she wants to see a vote on the U.S.-Russia pact -- which passed through committee on Sept. 16 -- during the "lame duck" session of Congress, after the November election but before newly elected senators take their seats.
"I look forward to the vote in the lame duck session that will once again demonstrate the Senate joining all of its predecessors in years past to continue to support arms control treaty," Clinton said confidently, standing alongside Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) on Sept. 30.
But the likelihood of the Senate making time to debate and vote on the treaty, which Kerry estimates would take three legislative days, is far from certain. Depending on whether Democrats retain control of the Senate and whether Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) loses his own election, the lame duck session or sessions could be brief. The Senate could also be consumed in November by overdue tasks, such as working on tax issues and funding the Defense Department.
Senior GOP senators, most of who have yet to signal their positions on the treaty, are also making it clear they don't support voting on New START during the lame duck session. They don't think there's enough time, and they still have substantive concerns about it.
One key issue is the dispute between the top Democratic and Republican senators of the Intelligence Committee, who are at odds over whether the National Intelligence Estimate provided to the committee gives enough assurance that the verification measures in the treaty can be properly enforced.
"Obviously the classified details are available to my colleagues in the secure reading room, but I can certainly share with you my conclusions. And I think by pushing the New START treaty, the administration is taking us down a very dangerous path," said committee ranking Republican Kit Bond (R-MO), speaking Monday on the radio show of Frank Gaffney, the founder, CEO, and president of the Center for Security Policy, a right-leaning think tank.
"I think the treaty is very weak on verification, especially compared to previous treaties like START and the INF treaty. And we would have much greater trouble determining whether Russia is cheating and given Russia's track record, that's a real problem," Bond said. "If we don't have a solid means of verifying them, it just makes no sense to trust them."
Bond says some specific issues he has with the verification mechanisms in the treaty include what he sees as the U.S. decision to grant Russia full access to its telemetry data, no right to on-sight monitoring of Russian facilities, and language that notes Russia's opposition to U.S. missile defense plans.
Bond is using the verification issue to argue for postponing a vote on New START until next year. Ironically, that will mean he won't get a vote, since he is retiring at the end of this session.
"I hope we only do the things we have to do in the lame duck [session]," Bond said. "I'm hoping they will put this off and consider it next year when people have a chance to look at it and people have time to debate it."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) doesn't believe that the intelligence information provided to the committee is a problem. Moreover, she points out that without a treaty, there is no verification at all. In fact, verification has been shuttered since the old START treaty expired last December.
"I've read the National Intelligence Estimate very clearly," Feinstein told The Cable in an interview. "The overwhelming fact is that if START goes down, nothing is in place. If START goes down, everything that has been attempted by improving relations between our two countries takes an enormous setback."
"The issue in question is whether the treaty provides adequate verification. In my view, it does," she said.
Bond's concerns about the treaty are separate from concerns raised by Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) at the Sept. 16 hearing, which was almost derailed when Risch raised an undisclosed late-breaking intelligence concern. But that's not the problem that worries Bond.
"Risch raised a different piece of intelligence about something else," Kerry said, declining to go into specifics.
Regardless, the administration will have to make a choice whether to push hard for a vote in the lame duck session and risk alienating senators who are calling for more time, or let the vote slip until next year, when the makeup of the Senate, and therefore the politics of New START, may be very different.
The Senate Foreign Relations committee approved a resolution to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia on Thursday, overcoming objections by Sen. James Risch about new top secret intelligence and after reaching a compromise over strategic posture with Sen. Jim DeMint.
The vote was 14-4, with all Democrats voting to approve the resolution along with Republican Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Bob Corker (R-TN), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), John Barrasso (R-WY), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Risch voted no.
South Carolina's DeMint, whose attempt to add language on missile defense to the resolution was the focus of intense backroom negotiations, did not return from a break to attend the final vote. Since he did not tell ranking Republican Lugar which way he wanted to vote, his expected no vote was never entered.
Lugar and Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) praised the committee's approval of the resolution and Kerry said he would not rule out holding a Senate floor debate and vote before the November elections.
But a Senate leadership aide ruled it out, telling The Cable, "There's no way we can do it this month, they don't have the 67 votes yet (needed for full Senate ratification)."
All morning, the committee room was abuzz regarding Risch's disclosure that he had received late-breaking intelligence information that he argued should prevent the Senate from moving forward on the New START treaty.
In a brief interview on the miniature subway between the Dirksen building and the Capitol, Risch confirmed to The Cable that the information was contained in a top secret intelligence community document sent to the Intelligence Committee this week and a follow-up letter sent to foreign relations committee members by ranking Republican Kit Bond (R-MO).
Risch confirmed that the information concerned Russian cheating on arms control agreements and said it was only the latest in a stream of documents and information that led him to have grave concerns that the New START treaty could move forward in a credible way.
The Cable pointed out to Risch that allegations of Russian cheating, especially regarding the first START treaty, have been well reported and subsequently addressed by the administration (via The Cable). But Risch responded that the problem was worse than what's publicly known.
"You haven't seen the stuff that I've seen," he said.
Bond's office confirmed the existence of the letter but declined to discuss because it was classified. Kerry convened a Wednesday briefing on the issue for SFRC members and consulted Vice President Joseph Biden on the issue before deciding that he believed the ratification process could proceed.
Before disappearing, DeMint's proposed amendment to "commit" the United States to build a multi-layered missile defense system to defend the American people and deployed U.S. forces from missiles of all ranges became the most controversial amendment brought forth at the committee's business meeting, where the debate and vote on New START was occurring.
Kerry was adamantly opposed to the DeMint amendment, saying it could imperil the treaty altogether. But after Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) said he would support DeMint's amendment, meaning that it could actually pass, Kerry huddled behind closed doors with DeMint, Corker, Isaacson, and Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller (who was hanging out nearby) to iron out a compromise.
The Cable obtained copies of both DeMint's original amendment as well as the compromise that Kerry eventually endorsed and that was added to the resolution of ratification by unanimous consent voice vote.
The compromise version changes DeMint's amendment from an "understanding" to a "declaration," which makes it non-binding. The compromise version also no longer says the U.S. is "committed" to building an expansive all-encompassing missile defense system; the new language says the U.S. is "free to reduce the vulnerability to attack by constructing a layered missile defense system capable of countering missiles of all ranges." The compromise also removes language that makes it seem that missile defense should be aimed at Russia.
In a concession to DeMint, Kerry agreed to language that now says "policies based on mutually assured destruction can be contrary to the safety and security of both countries and the United States and the Russian Federation share a common interest in moving cooperatively as soon as possible from a strategic relationship based on mutually assured destruction."
Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
As the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia finally comes to a committee vote this Thursday, the focus is shifting from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who has been quarterbacking the Senate ratification process, to his Republican counterpart Richard Lugar (R-IN), who is attempting to negotiate a compromise between the Obama administration and Senate Republicans.
Last week, Kerry circulated his resolution of ratification for the New START treaty, published exclusively by The Cable. Kerry's version was subsequently panned by Republicans for not addressing several of their concerns.
But when it comes time to vote, senators will likely be working off a new resolution being crafted this week by Lugar. That's because Lugar's version, a draft of which was also obtained exclusively by The Cable, has much more chance of getting GOP committee members' support.
In remarks at George Washington University on Monday night, Lugar said that he was working with Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as with the administration, to refine his resolution. He also predicted that his draft would be the one to reach the Senate floor.
"I believe that John Kerry will support that," Lugar told the audience, explaining that he was trying to address concerns from both sides of the aisle. The administration held a long negotiating session with Lugar's staff on Monday in an attempt to reach mutually acceptable language.
Even with Lugar still tweaking his resolution, multiple GOP Senate offices told The Cable Monday that they far prefer Lugar's first draft over Kerry's version.
"Lugar's draft does a decent job of addressing about 80 percent of the issues that can be addressed," said one GOP senate aide working on the issue. "Some issues can't be addressed because you can't amend the treaty."
Specifically, Lugar's version includes new or expanded sections addressing several issues of concern for GOP senators, including the sharing of missile telemetry data with the Russians, U.S. plans to develop global strike capabilities, the treaty's potential impact on missile defense, and the powers of the bilateral commission that will oversee treaty implementation.
GOP aides also noted that Lugar's resolution is more comprehensive (22 pages to Kerry's 6) and is written in legislative style, which makes it much easier to amend as it makes its way through the Senate.
And there will be plenty of amendments. Lugar himself is circulating an updated version Tuesday and various Senate offices are preparing language they hope to add when the committee meets Thursday morning.
Kerry's office maintains that having two competing versions of the resolution is just part of the process, a position supported by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher. But multiple State and Hill sources said that the lack of agreement between Kerry and Lugar was a problem in the negotiations over the resolution language. They pointed out that, though it's not fair to say there's a rift between the two, a joint resolution would have shown unity and cooperation on the issue.
The scenario during the committee meeting is likely to play out as follows: Kerry will introduce his resolution and Lugar will introduce his version as a "substitute amendment." If Lugar's amendment is passed, which is likely, then various other senators will try to issue amendments to it. In the end, some form of a START ratification resolution is likely to pass, either with one GOP vote (Lugar's) or two or three more, at most.
After that, the administration will be pushing to get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to schedule floor time to debate and vote on the resolution, which needs 67 votes to pass, before the next Congressional recess. Administration officials still hold out hope that is possible.
"I hope to actually get a vote on the floor in the next couple of weeks," Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller said Monday at Georgetown University. "People are wrestling very actively with this issue. This is a new Congressional season but there's actually very little time before they break before the elections."
A Senate leadership aide told The Cable that START was on a list of items for possible consideration before the Congressional recess. "We have many important items to consider and we will need Republican cooperation to do so," the aide said.
In his remarks at George Washington University, Lugar also sounded a pessimistic note on getting the treaty a full vote on the Senate floor before the November midterm elections. He blamed the delay on the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in Congress.
"This is not a happy time in terms of people accomodating each other," he said.
One senior GOP Senate aide close to the issue was also skeptical. He predicted the treaty debate would be pushed to November or even next year.
"Are they drunk? Why would Harry Reid spend any floor time on this, it's just not going to help any Democrat get elected."
Next week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is slated to finally vote on a resolution to ratify the new START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia, amid growing concern that time is running out for the full Senate to consider the treaty this year.
Top Obama administration officials are working hard behind the scenes to convince GOP senators to get off the fence and announce their support for new START. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is going to be hard pressed to find precious floor time for the treaty before the Senate goes home for its recess before the midterm elections. What might happen after the elections is anyone's guess. The treaty could be considered during the lame-duck session or be postponed until next year, but a more GOP-heavy Senate could change the calculus for getting to the 67 vote threshold needed for ratification.
Supporters of the treaty have been increasingly frustrated about the persistent delays. They blame Senate Republicans, who have been discussing a whole host of concerns they have over the treaty and withholding any commitment to support the pact. The GOP blames the Obama administration for what it sees as the shortcomings of the agreement and its refusal to share the full negotiating record with the Senate.
Regardless, top administration officials involved in the treaty said Friday that the administration had done pretty much all it can to appease Senate Republicans.
"This administration has provided the Senate with more information than is even necessary to make an informed decision," said Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher. "There's been very robust outreach, every question has been answered, and it's time to take the vote."
Tauscher alluded to the growing fear among New START supporters that the GOP reluctance to support the treaty is based in their reluctance to give Obama a foreign policy victory before the election.
"As an American citizen I will say that the American people are clearly frustrated and frankly fed up with the kind of partisanship they see on many issues, and they certainly become disheartened and frightened when they see it on national security, where for decades we've had an agreement that these were issues that were too important and had too much to do with the safety and security of the American people to be caught up in a partisan debate," she said.
Tauscher did not shed any light on the administration's understanding of the treaty's schedule following the committee's planned Sept. 16 vote. Earlier this week, The Cable reported that chairman John Kerry's draft resolution on ratification was facing internal criticism and had failed to win the support of ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN). Lugar is expected to circulate his own version on Monday.
Tauscher referred indirectly to this development, saying that it was not unusual to have two different resolutions brought to a committee vote. However, State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that it's at least somewhat unusual and definitely less desirable, from the perspective of the administration, than having only one resolution on which to vote.
Since the old START treaty expired last December, there has been no verification of Russian nuclear activities and no process to work with Russia on areas of mutual concern - a fact that Tauscher focused on in making her case for the necessity of ratifying the new treaty quickly.
"The urgency to verify the treaty is because we currently lack verification measures with Russia," she said. "The longer that goes on, the more opportunity there is for misunderstanding and mistrust."
She also said that the administration's proposal for huge increases in the budget for the nuclear complex and modernization of the nuclear stockpile, which was put forth in the fiscal 2011 budget request, is its final offer -- even though some Senate Republicans have called for larger increases.
"We've shown our hand, we've proposed our budget, it's a 13 percent increase," she said. "Any question about the commitment to modernization is just not a question."
She also took a gentle shot at those pushing for more money for the nuclear weapons complex, pointing out that their insistence for more funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration wasn't evident before they decided to raise concerns about the START treaty. This feeds into the increasingly public sentiment among administration officials that senators are using the nuclear funding issue as just one more reason to delay a vote on new START.
"I was pretty lonely fighting for money for the NNSA and for the weapons complex before I left Congress for the administration," she said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is confident the Senate will President Obama's strategic nuclear treaty with Russia shortly after the August congressional recess, she said Wednesday morning.
Following a meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, she said the administration had reassured skeptical senators about their concerns over what the treaty means for missile defense, investment in "nuclear modernization," and verification.
"This treaty in no way will constrain our ability to modernize our nuclear enterprise or develop and deploy the most effective missile defenses for the sake of our security and for our allies and friends," she said.
She also touted the administration's $80 billion proposal for modernizing the nuclear weapons complex, a huge increase in such funding but short of what some GOP senators are calling for.
Clinton took a page from the book of committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, who said last week that the quick ratification of the treaty, known as New START, is a national-security imperative because all monitoring of Russian nuclear activities stopped when the last treaty expired last December.
"There is an urgency to ratify this treaty because we currently lack verification measures with Russia, which only hurts our national security interests," she said. "Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia's nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty. As time passes, uncertainty will only increase. Ratifying the New START treaty will prevent that outcome."
Although Clinton said all of the senators' questions were being answered, one sticking point is likely to remain even after the recess ends. Several GOP senators are demanding the administration give them the entire negotiating record for New START. The administration has provided a summary, but has indicated several times that it has no intention of handing over the full record.
The administration argues that even though negotiating records have been provided in the past in certain cases, doing so hurts their ability to hold private negotiations with foreign governments in the future.
"It is surprising to see so many former senators in an administration who believe the Senate is a rubber stamp," one senior GOP aide told The Cable. "Until the administration sends up the negotiating record, it is clear that we have not yet reached the end of the beginning of this process."
Kerry has promised a committee vote on the treaty will be held Sept. 15 or 16.
Clinton's full remarks after the jump:
With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee having delayed its vote on President Obama's nuclear treaty with Russia until September, the committee's top Republican is warning that time is of the essence.
Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, told committee members at Tuesday's business meeting that even though the committee could have approved the treaty, allowing it to go to the full Senate, he felt it better to take the time to build more consensus before requiring senators to stake out their positions.
But ranking member Richard Lugar, R-IN, warned that if the treaty stalls, it might be hard to build up momentum again. He also said he had argued internally for holding the committee vote this week to allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, to go ahead and reserve precious Senate floor time for treaty consideration in September.
If the committee doesn't vote until September, it's "problematic" to try to get floor time before the next break, Lugar said, meaning that the December "lame duck" post-election session would be where the treaty would get a full Senate debate.
"If not [before the election], then whether it works out in December or not is no longer a matter of parliamentary debate, it's a matter of national security," he said, citing the fact that U.S. inspectors have not been able to verify Russian behavior regarding nuclear weapons deployment since the original START agreement expired late last year. "We ought to vote now and let the chips fall where they may. It's that important."
"The problem of the breakdown of our verification, which lapsed December 5, is very serious and impacts our national security," Lugar said. Members may want to take extra time to consider the treaty, but if they are really concerned about Russian activity, ratifying the treaty is the way to address that, he added.
Kerry implored committee members to take the time over recess to think it over and come back to town ready to vote.
"We currently have no verifiability, no regime in place with Russia," he said. "My hope is that we can do this expeditiously when we come back ... Every senator should be prepared to mark up this resolution of advice and consent on September 15 or 16."
A draft of the resolution will be circulated well before then, Kerry added.
Meanwhile, more fence-sitting senators seem to be signaling that they are getting ready to support New START.
The Cable has been asking every single GOP senator repeatedly to state his or her position on the treaty. Before today, only Lugar and Bob Bennett, R-UT, had indicated support and only James Inhofe, R-OK, and Jim DeMint, R-SC, had said they would oppose it.
Today, The Cable caught up with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, who had previously said he had not come to a conclusion. He now says he is taking steps to prepare for a yes vote.
"I'm waiting for further action on the modernization of the nuclear weapons program," he said, referring to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl's ongoing negotiations with the administration over how much money will be made available for nuclear labs and other items.
Lieberman also said when the treaty does come up, he will put forth side documents called "reservations," which can be attached to the treaty to express congressional concerns while still allowing the treaty to go into effect without any changes.
"I may want to submit some reservations or understandings, which will enable me to vote for the treaty," he said.
The Cable also caught up with Senate Armed Services Committee member Jeff Sessions, R-AL, who wouldn't commit but seemed to be leaning toward a no vote.
Sessions said the treaty is not really important, gives too much to the Russians without getting enough in return, and compromises U.S. missile defense.
"It was pretty obvious to me that the administration team was all obsessed with getting it done and signing this treaty as some sort of psychological political statement to the world, and the Russians played us like a Stradivarius," he said. "I'm not buying the argument that this is necessary."
Sessions is most upset that President Obama laid out a goal of moving to a world without nuclear weapons in the first place. "This is such an unwise and incomprehensible policy that it makes everyone uneasy," Sessions said.
Still, Sessions won't say for sure which way he will go. When asked if he agreed with Lugar that time was running out, he said he doesn't have to state his position until a vote comes up.
"The vote's not today," he pointed out.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has postponed a vote on President Obama's strategic arms treaty with Russia until mid-September, dashing hopes among arms-control advocates that the agreement could be ratified before the fall election season gets into full swing.
Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, informed members Tuesday that the committee would be rescheduling a business meeting set for Wednesday, Aug. 4, in which the SFRC was to consider the treaty, known as New START.
Citing members' requests for more time to review the treaty as well as what he described in a letter as "extensive" background documents provided by the State Department, the intelligence community, and the executive branch, Kerry informed committee members to be ready to vote on the treaty on Sept. 15 or 16 -- and urged them to vote yes.
So far, only one Republican member of the committee, ranking member Richard Lugar of Indiana, has signed on, and at least two -- Jim DeMint of South Carolina and James Inhofe of Oklahoma -- have said they will vote against the treaty.
Kerry likely delayed the business meeting because he isn't confident the treaty would pass a floor vote.
As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gets ready to vote on President Obama's nuclear arms reductions treaty, several Republican senators are now hinting that they will support the agreement and are working toward bipartisan ratification.
The key senator to watch is Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican point man on the treaty. Kyl, who is in talks with the office of Vice President Joseph Biden, isn't saying which way he's leaning -- but his friends say Kyl is getting closer to supporting ratification.
Utah Sen. Bob Bennett told The Cable in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he wants to vote for the treaty, but is holding off until he gets the nod from his leadership.
"I'm waiting for Senator Kyl to finish his analysis, but he's leaning yes and I'm leaning yes," Bennett said.
Contrary to some Republicans who don't believe that reducing nuclear stockpiles is a good idea at all, such as Jim DeMint, R-SC, James Inhofe, R-OK, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Bennett said the treaty is a good idea and even characterized it as a constructive part of President Obama's reset policy with Russia.
"I think it's a step in the right direction and a continuation of the thawing of the relationship between the United States and Russia that goes all the way back to the Ronald Reagan. We're now at the point where this is probably a good idea."
Bennett had a "friendly conversation" with Biden last week. Biden's office has been taking the lead on the issue, using his deputy national security advisor Brian McKeon to coordinate ratification strategy, administration sources said. Kyl had denied to The Cable that he was negotiating with Biden, but a spokesman confirmed that Kyl did meet with Biden but just didn't want to characterize it as "negotiating."
The White House has taken the lead role in Congress although State Department officials did the heavy lifting in negotiating the deal with Russia over the last year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still involved -- she met with another potential GOP vote, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, on the issue this month -- but the strategy is being driven in the Old Executive Office.
"It's a White House priority, so that's the way it is," one administration source relates.
Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, other senior Republican senators are signaling they are getting ready to support ratification.
"Hopefully we can create an environment, after general study, that would permit the Senate to ratify the treaty in a bipartisan way," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, the third-ranking senator in the Republican caucus, told The Cable. "But we're not there yet."
"It will depend primarily on whether we can have an adequate nuclear modernization program going forward," he said. "I'm working very closely with Senator Kyl to make that happen."
Other GOP senators aren't yet showing their cards, and are withholding their support until their particular concerns are addressed.
Sen. John Thune, R-SD, told The Cable that he is waiting for a response to his request for a briefing from the Defense Department about the Pentagon's intentions regarding delivery systems for nuclear weapons. In Thune's eyes, the new treaty doesn't have enough clarity on the mix of bombers, missiles, and submarines that will be used going forward.
Ellsworth Air Force Base in Thune's state would stand to benefit greatly if a new bomber was built.
Thune also expressed the lingering feeling among many Republicans that New START isn't a great deal for the United States.
"I don't disagree with the idea that we ought to try to have some equilibrium between their capabilities and ours, but it seems to me right now that we have made reductions without any sort of comparable type of reductions from the Russians," he said.
The treaty text requires each side to cap its arsenal to 1,500 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles. Thune's contention is that the Russians were already planning to reduce to those levels.
With Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, as a firm yes vote, the committee can approve the treaty whenever it chooses. But Lugar and his chairman, John Kerry, D-MA, don't want to force GOP fence sitters to make a call before they are ready. And Kyl has made clear he won't let the treaty come to the Senate floor until his concerns are addressed.
But time is of the essence for treaty supporters. The Senate leaves for recess next after next week and ratification would have to be fit into a hectic, politically charged session beginning after Labor Day and leading up to the midterm elections. "Senator Kerry is working with his colleagues and the administration to hear views and address questions raised by senators about the new START treaty and related issues as quickly as possible," said committee spokesman Fred Jones.
There's no decisions yet on when to bring up the agreement. "Ultimately, the goal is to build consensus for the timely ratification of this vital treaty," he said.
The Kremlin is getting more Internet-savvy every day. Not only has President Dmitry Medvedev joined Twitter, the Russia government now has an English language web portal to help funnel business and advertise their foray into the information age.
Modern Russia, a website devoted to Russia's public diplomacy mission in the U.S., opened for business today. Funded by the Russian government, the site is managed by Ketchum, the public-relations firm that represents the Russian government and the Russian energy giant Gazprom.
ModernRussia.com is an online forum designed to facilitate discussion about the steps that government and private industry are taking to make modernisation a reality. The forum also provides a space to identify and discuss the challenges that remain," the website explains.
There is all sorts of interesting information on the site. For example, did you know that Russia has a hugely successful "cash for clunkers" program to get old cars off the road and spur new car sales? And were you aware Russia just opened its largest-ever shopping mall, called "Vegas," which has an indoor Ferris wheel?
The site also has a lot of wonky policy and law-related items that purport to show Russia as a burgeoning emerging market that is steadily moving toward economic and legal reform. The lead item in the legal section is entitled "Government flexes legal muscle in corruption fight."
So, is this just a PR gimmick? Not at all, says Matt Stearns, Ketchum vice president. The site is meant to invite participation for people to offer commentary and solutions, which will all be posted if they aren't angry or profane. Third-party analysis will also come from writers from across the spectrum, he said.
"There will be an opportunity for folks to participate in the debate and we'll aim to show a balanced perspective of Russia's investment climate," Stearns told The Cable.
"Why is this website important? Because Russia's modernization is dependent in no small part on foreign direct investment."
The new initiative even has a Twitter feed of its own.
With all of the Senate hearings on President Obama's new nuclear reductions treaty with Russia now completed, the push toward a vote is underway, much to the chagrin of some Republicans. In their effort to delay a vote on the New START treaty, senior GOP senators are now pointing to a House appropriations bill still being formed as the latest reason they can't yet support the treaty.
The House Appropriations Energy and Water subcommittee approved a bill for fiscal 2011 funding that would give $525 million to the nuclear weapons complex for the first year of an ambitious nuclear weapons modernization program, $99 million less than the administration had requested. For overall funding for the nuclear weapons complex, the House panel recommended $6.9 billion, which is 8 percent above what was given for the same activities in fiscal 2010.
That's the largest increase in the history of that account, but regardless, the subcommittee's proposed reductions for the modernization program were enough to provoke major objections from the same Republicans who are seen as key swing votes on New START.
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, opened up today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing by referring to the House's energy bill directly and asking the witnesses if they would recommend that Obama veto the bill if the subcommittee's proposed funding levels carry the day.
"There are already concerns about the adequacy of the president's plan for meeting our full recapitalization and modernization needs, and this lack of commitment by House Democrats to at least meet the president's request is troubling," he said.
The energy bill markup is by no means final. In fact, there's little chance Congress will pass any energy appropriations bill -- it's more likely they will fold it into a larger bill to keep the government running after the fiscal year expires on Sept. 30.
So, is this energy bill funding level issue really a big deal?
"It's a huge deal," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, the unofficial GOP point man on New START, told The Cable in an interview Tuesday. "The modernization program will cost a fair amount of money ... So how are we going to get that money back so the modernization program is not deficient?"
In an interview, Senate Foreign Relations Committee head John Kerry, D-MA, assured The Cable that the modernization account would be fully funded to match the president's request.
"We're working on that now. The president is committed to the full $624 million and that commitment stands," he said.
Regardless, the new dispute is fueling concern inside the administration that Kyl may not really have any intention of supporting the treaty, even if he's given as much as can be given on the modernization front.
Kyl flatly denied he is in negotiations with Vice President Joe Biden or any other administration officials over New START. When asked whether he would vote for the treaty if all his concerns or addressed or if he even supports the overall idea of nuclear reductions, he declined to give a straight answer.
"I don't have to respond to that," he said. "Let me just put it this way, I think the administration will have a lot easier job of getting the START treaty approved if they make sure all the things that members have asked for are provided."
Kyl is still demanding access to the entire negotiating record for the treaty, which the administration has no intention of providing. He's also asking for more time for members to pour over the treaty.
Meanwhile, the administration is pursuing a two-track strategy, working with Kyl in the hopes of convincing him and his cohorts to come along, while also trying to find eight to 10 GOP moderate votes they could get if Kyl ultimately balks.
Those GOP moderates are going to be hard to find. The Cable tracked down GOP Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, Olympia Snowe, R-ME, Judd Gregg, R-NH, and Scott Brown, R-MA, all of whom said they were not ready to give any indication or significant comment on whether they would vote in favor of New START.
Nor is Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, a safe yes vote. In an interview with The Cable, Lieberman said, "I'd like to be in a position to support it." He referred to the verification measures in the treaty, which he and other senators want more clarification on.
As for McCain, he told The Cable on Tuesday that he supported the overall idea of reducing nuclear stockpiles and promised to keep an open mind on the treaty, "as long as we can do it and ensure our safety and security."
"In all of these treaties, the devil in the details and that's what we've got work out," he said.
Roll Call/Getty Images
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that President Obama's strategic arms-control treaty with Russia will be eventually ratified by the Senate, with a smattering of reluctant GOP votes. But what if that doesn't happen?
The possibility of the treaty being rejected or stalled indefinitely is a real one. The center of gravity on the Senate side is around Sens. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and John McCain, R-AZ, neither of whom has revealed yet which way they will vote. Interested but less-involved senators like Bob Corker, R-TN, are likely to follow their lead.
It's been reported that Kyl is in negotiations now, bargaining for concessions, such as more money for nuclear modernization or guarantees that missile defense won't fall victim to the treaty. But in the end, there's no assurance he will vote yes, and the treaty could be voted down or pulled from consideration. That would be a huge setback for U.S. credibility abroad and the Obama administration's entire arms-control agenda, according to experts, former officials, and foreign diplomats.
"If this were to go down, the ripple effect consequences around the world would be the worst possible outcome we've seen since World War II," said former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who currently co-chair's Obama's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. "It would set in motion the disintegration of any confidence in the leadership of the two major nuclear powers to deal with this and it would set in motion a disintegration of any structural boundaries and capacities to deal with this. This would devastating not just for arms control but for security interests worldwide."
While New START is a deal between the U.S. and Russia, which account for approximately 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, its defeat would harm international efforts to later bring other nuclear powers into an arms-control regime, according to former Democratic Senator Gary Hart.
"The two of us have the greatest burden, but sooner or later we want to bring in China and our European allies that have nuclear arsenals and see how far we can go," Hart said. "But it must begin with us and the Russians, and if we turn our back... it's a giant step backward and it would set back our diplomacy, foreign policy, and national security in serious ways."
Meanwhile, European allies are growing frustrated with the slow pace of the Obama administration's arms-control agenda. Several European diplomats have told The Cable they are aware of the difficulties of Senate ratification but nevertheless feel they were given assurances by the administration and are looking to Obama to get it done.
"From the European point of view, nobody can understand why the START treaty has not been ratified," said France's Ambassador to Washington Pierre Vimont, "When we send cables back home saying that START might not be ratified, they ask us ‘What have you been drinking?'"
Arms-control advocates are concerned that the basic agreement that was struck between nuclear and non-nuclear countries in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- that the "have nots" would forgo building nukes if the "haves" promised to move toward eliminating their stockpiles -- is in jeopardy.
Some, like treaty supporter Sen. Richard Lugar, R-IN, argue that the basic idea of getting to zero nuclear weapons is so controversial, it shouldn't even be part of the START sales pitch.
"I don't fault ... President Obama for talking about a world without nuclear weapons, but neither do I think it is a particularly good idea to express the process in that way," Lugar said. "Talk of ‘no nukes' also invites opposition from those who see it as a sign of weakness in those who lack the backbone to face the world as it is. I don't think that criticism is fair, but it's out there."
A failure to ratify New START would not only risk the NPT and the goal of eliminating nukes, advocates of passage say, it would also spell trouble for the rest of the Obama administration's arms-control agenda, including the president's promise to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and then pursue a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which would seek to end the production of weapons grade nuclear material.
When the Senate last voted on CTBT in 1999, which was also the last time the Senate had a contentious debate over arms control, its defeat was a huge blow for the Clinton administration and no arms-control debates have been see on the Senate floor since.
"The alternative [to ratification] is no START treaty, no verification, a clear setback to U.S.-Russian relations and widespread questioning of U.S. ability to carry forth international agreements if we can't get this treaty through," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World.
He said that CTBT would be a difficult treaty to ratify in any case, and after the November elections, the potential presence of more GOP senators will make it that much harder.
"The ultimate lesson of New START is that nothing's easy," he said.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had sleeper agents stationed in Washington, charged with disabling the city's electric grid and poison the public drinking water in the event of a superpower crisis, according to a former KGB general.
Although Russian spooks in 2010 seemed to be aiming for gigs at think tanks like the New America Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment, back in the 1960s, there were only a few undercover Russian spies -- "illegals" -- in the U.S. and they had a much more specific and violent mission.
"Illegals in my time were only a couple in the United States," said former major general Oleg Kalugin, who handled Soviet agents during several stints in Washington. "One had a very special mission ... his job was to act in case the United States and the USSR were close to military conflict. Then, this illegal would blow up the power line grids in the Washington area, so there would be no power, and second to poison water supplies in the Washington area, not to kill people, to make them sick. Can you imagine that?"
The Washington Post's Jeff Stein followed up with Kalugin and found out that the ex-spy chief had not revealed the missions in either of his books about his time as a leading KGB officer.
As for the 10 illegals that were rolled up and swapped back to Russia last week, Kalugin said, "I thought, what a waste of money, time and resources."
Kalugin joined the KGB at age 18, following in the footsteps of his father, a KGB captain. Throughout his career, he had cover as a Fulbright scholar, a journalist, and later as a diplomat. He supervised the handling of John Walker, the Navy analyst who passed classified material to the Soviets for 17 years before being caught in 1985.
Now, after having a very public fallout with the KGB at the end of the Cold War, Kalugin lives in the U.S., has taken American citizenship, and makes a nice living as a consultant, author, and speaker; he even sits on the board of Washington's International Spy Museum.
The KGB during his time "was a brutal, bloody organization," Kalugin said, but he alleged that its successor organization, the FSB, is still up to many of the old tricks.
"Some of the critics of the current Russian regime just were killed, poisoned, assassinated, just because they were critical of some specific personal traits of the Russian leadership or because they knew too much or talked too much," he said.
Kalugin was speaking at a roundtable for the press held after the Washington screening of the movie SALT, in which Angelina Jolie plays a CIA agent accused of spying for the Russians. He was a consultant for the film.
But Kalugin also gave his audience new and fascinating insight into another spy movie recently released, the French film Farewell, which tells a dramatized version of a true story about French intelligence exposing a Soviet spy operation during the height of the Cold War.
"I myself years ago was involved in the initial investigation of Farewell. He was in Canada at some point and we had a source in the Canadian Royal Mounted Police," Kalugin said. The agent codenamed Farewell was recalled from Canada but not removed from the Soviet intelligence service. Rather, he was given a desk job in the research division as well as a young female assistant, who was tasked to report on his activities back to KGB headquarters.
"We planted a young lady in his office to watch that guy, Farewell, but it so happens she fell in love with him," Kalugin said.
In a crazy twist, Farewell and his mistress were quarrelling while driving down the road and he struck her, threw her from the car, and drove off, believing she was dead. But she survived and told the story. He was sentenced to 50 years in jail and then executed while in prison, Kalugin said. "That's the true Farewell story."
When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible -- and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors.
"I think it is important to send a clear message to North Korea that provocative actions have consequences," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said May 21 while visiting her Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.
Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn't even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.
The statement acknowledges that the South Korean investigation, which included broad international participation, blamed North Korea, and then "takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."
"Therefore, the Security Council condemns the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan," the statement reads.
The White House's spokesman on such matters, Mike Hammer, issued a statement clearly stating that the Obama administration believes North Korea was responsible and arguing that the U.N. statement "constitutes an endorsement of the findings" of the Joint Investigative Group that issued the report blaming North Korea.
So the U.S. and the South Koreans believe North Korea was guilty but the U.N. isn't willing to go that far. But what about the next step? Will there be any follow up, any "consequences" for North Korea, as Clinton seemed to promise in May?
"I think right now we're just allowing North Korea to absorb the international community's response to its actions," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday.
North Korea's representative to the U.N., Sin Son Ho, called the statement a "great diplomatic victory."
"That doesn't sound like a lot of absorption," one member of the State Department press corps shot back at Toner.
When asked what comes next, Toner said there were no plans to pursue additional measures, other than enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, and there were no outstanding requests from South Korea for additional measures. "We'll wait and let the statement stand," he said.
So what happened between May and now? According to both South Korean and U.S. officials, the countries pushing for actual penalties were serious about it at first, as is shown in the June 4 letter from South Korea, endorsed by the U.S., which urged the Security Council to "respond in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea's military provocation in order to deter recurrence of any further provocation by North Korea."
But as China, ever the defender of the Hermit Kingdom, stalled on making any definitive statements about the incident, officials in Seoul and Washington began to worry that they might not be able to get any U.N. action whatsoever.
Then, toward the end of June, Beijing became nervous about the mounting international pressure and decided to try to wrap up the U.N. discussions as quickly as possible. They calculated that it was a losing game, so moved to get a statement out quickly with a small concession as a means of getting the whole issue behind them.
"This is less than we expected from the beginning," a South Korean official told The Cable, "But it clearly says the Cheonan was sunk by an attack, cites the five-country international joint-investigation result, and condemns it as a deplorable behavior. Even though it did not clarify it was North Korea's torpedo attack, it theoretically points the finger at North Korea as being responsible."
The South Korean official pointed at Russia and China as being responsible for the weakness of the statement.
"Definitely there has been a tough negotiation, especially to persuade the PRC and Russia, and this is result," the official said, "All the other countries except [China and Russia] strongly supported putting pressure on them."
Korea experts and former officials in Washington are sympathetic to the Obama administration's compromise in terms of the statement, but strongly lament that this administration seems not to be in any rush to do anything to engage North Korea or get back to tackling the problem of its growing nuclear arsenal.
"This is a glass one third full, with an explanation to convince you that it's not two thirds empty," said former North Korea negotiator Jack Pritchard, now president of the Korea Economic Institute. The statement was meant not to identify winners, but to allow everyone to avoid being named losers, he said.
"It's not clear cut and it's unsatisfactory, but it may have been the best that we could do," Pritchard acknowledged. The problem as he sees is it that now the Obama administration is back to the status quo, which means no discernable progress on North Korea nuclear discussions, something referred to as "strategic patience."
Joel Wit, another former negotiator who is now a visiting fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the time is way past overdue to find some way to get back to talking with North Korea.
"The key issue here is, are we ready to turn this corner and try to return to some sort of negotiation, some sort of dialogue that tries to deal with the problems between us, or do we just continue with strategic patience?" Wit said.
Pritchard warned that because Pyongyang has backed off its promise to move towards denuclearization and the Obama administration can't accept a nuclear North Korea, the only way to move forward would be to get North Korea to change its calculus... and that can only be done with Chinese help.
"It requires at least a perception that the Chinese will abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 and that's not currently the case," said Pritchard. "Strategic patience is an attitude, not a policy."
LEE JAE-WON/AFP/Getty Images
Conservative opposition to the new nuclear reductions treaty between the United States and Russia has entered a new phase, with detractors expanding their aim outside of Washington in the hope of building grassroots support for their drive to thwart Senate ratification and make the treaty the centerpiece of their criticism of President Obama's foreign-policy agenda.
Mitt Romney, the once and future Republican presidential candidate, unofficially announced the GOP's change in tone with a Washington Post op-ed entitled "Obama's Worst Foreign Policy Mistake."
In the article, Romney repeats all the longstanding criticisms of the treaty put forth by some Republican senators: that it constrains U.S. missile defense expansion, allows for Russia to opt out at any time, ignores Russia's advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, and generally gives more to the Russians than they are giving back.
Defense writers such as Fred Kaplan have pointed out factual errors in Romney's piece, and even Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, felt the need Wednesday to respond directly with his own Post op-ed, where he took on Romney's arguments point by point and also accused the former Massachusetts governor of demagogueing the issue to score political points with conservative voters.
"Even in these polarized times, anyone seeking the presidency should know that the security of the United States is too important to be treated as fodder for political posturing," Kerry wrote.
But the expansion of the New START debate into the national political arena is not an accident. The anti-ratification crowd is mobilizing supporters all over the country with the express aim of making START a pillar of conservative opposition to President Obama's foreign policy.
One of the main activities signaling this shift is a nationwide lobbying effort recently begun by the group Heritage Action for America, a new organization closely tied to the Heritage Foundation, the well-known conservative think tank. Heritage Action for America was established as 501c4 organization, which means it can do direct lobbying on the Hill and broad grassroots lobbying around the country.
Killing START is one of the group's two keystone efforts, along with a drive to push a repeal of the new health-care bill in the House. The organization is now circulating a petition to its 671,000 dues-paying members featuring a video of Romney criticizing the treaty.
"To date, discussion of New START has been an inside-the-beltway issue with little input from the American people," Heritage Action's CEO Michael A. Needham told The Cable. "Given the potential impact of the treaty on American security, Heritage Action is committed to giving Americans a conservative voice in Washington. Our petition drive will empower Americans who oppose the treaty and ensure their senator will take note. It is the first step towards stopping New START."
And Heritage Action is not stopping there. The group has a detailed plan to target lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and persuading wavering senators to oppose the treaty. Votes up for grabs include moderate Republicans like Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, but also conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson, D-NE, and Evan Bayh, D-IN.
The group also intends to put people on the ground in key districts while pressing their supporters to make their opposition to START known to their senators.
The new movement is timed to have an impact just as the drive to ratify New START heats up in the Senate. But the full-throated opposition to START as espoused by Heritage Action and Romney goes beyond the current position of many Senate Republicans who now are at the center of the START ratification debate.
This June 30 letter to Kerry from all the committee Republicans except for ranking member Richard Lugar, R-IN, argues that the Senate needs more time and information to examine the treaty but doesn't argue that the treaty is unacceptable on its face. Even the new agreement's leading Senate critic, Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, hasn't come out to say he opposes the treaty -- at least not yet.
Kerry's July 1 response letter points out that reams of documents on the new treaty have been given to Congress and more are on the way. Congress has already received reports on Russian compliance with the old START treaty up to when it expired last December and a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate on the new agreement, as required by law.
The compliance reports are important because the last report in 2005 revealed Russian cheating. There is also a "verifiability assessment" that State Department sources said will reach the Hill July 12. As for the NIE, sources familiar with the document say it hedges enough that either side could interpret it to fit their own frame. For example, the various levels of "confidence" the intelligence community gave to its assessments don't really help either side because they are so noncommittal.
That leaves only one document for Kyl and other senators to really fight about: their longstanding request for the full negotiating record for the new START treaty, which they suspect would reveal secret deals the administration is accused of making with the Russians regarding missile defense -- something the administration has flatly denied.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have resisted handing over such records, and past administrations have reluctantly agreed to hand them over while warning about the damaging effect such disclosures can have on the executive's ability to conduct negotiations.
Regardless, some GOP offices are prepared to make a big issue out of it. "By continuing to insist, contrary to history and precedent, that it will not share the negotiating record of the treaty, at least as it pertains to tactical nuclear weapons, missile defense and prompt global strike, the administration is simply showing that it isn't serious about getting the treaty ratified," said one senior GOP aide close to the issue.
One administration official said he believes the fight over the record is all about politics. Supporters of the treaty argue that Republicans want to deny Obama a foreign-policy success before the mid-term elections.
"The Republican demand for the negotiating record is akin to throwing mud against the wall to see what sticks ... Because the arguments against the treaty and the nomination are not working, they are just resorting to desperation tactics to create talking points," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World.
Will it work? It's still too early to tell. Nobody seems to know how many votes can be relied upon for ratification, making the next three weeks leading up the August recess, when Kerry intends to move the treaty out of committee, crucial.
Pro-treaty forces already have their own grassroots effort underway, with participation by the Council for a Livable World, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Ploughshares Fund, the Arms Control Association, and Global Zero, a group that has its own movie and petition to support the drive to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.
"The START treaty now figures prominently into what Global Zero is doing," said Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione, who noted that Global Zero has already given out dozens of grants around the country. "This effort alone might dwarf what the Heritage Foundation is doing on a community and grassroots level."
He also pointed to bipartisan groups that are supporting New START, including the Partnership for a Secure America, which rounded up dozens of former officials from both parties to come out and support the agreement.
"There's an ongoing and increasing drive both at the grassroots and elite levels, aimed both at Republicans and Democrats, whereas the Heritage Action effort is only aimed at Republicans, and far right Republicans at that," Cirincione said.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is quickly becoming the leading spokesman arguing against President Obama's reset policy with Russia, but his penchant for extreme rhetoric and loose understanding of the facts is overshadowing his message and, according to the administration, unhelpfully muddying the discussion.
DeMint has made increasing forays into the foreign-policy game this year. He was a key player in the Honduras policy debate, taking sides against ousted president Manuel Zelaya weeks before the administration eventually followed suit. He is deeply involved in the GOP drive to hold up a range of State Department nominees, and has used his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to stall the appointment of international broadcasting officials as well.
But when it comes to Russia, DeMint's rhetoric is hurting his case. That was on full display during an event on the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held by the Foreign Policy Initiative Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol building, where the senator referred to Russia several times as the "Soviet Union."
"Clearly the Soviet Union as a democracy is a fraud. Rule of law is very loose, foreign investment is very low," he said. "The Soviet Union, I mean Russia, is making the countries around it concerned with how Russia is constantly trying to manipulate their elections, undermine their freedom, and impose some control."
Think Progress blogger Max Bergmann noted that DeMint called Russia the Soviet Union at a hearing on the new START treaty last week as well.
At the FPI event, DeMint also explained his overall take on Russia. "Russia is trying to undermine American strength in different parts of the world. As we think of Russia, it s important to think of them as a threat to many and a protector of none," he said. He also at one point said, "I don't pretend to be an expert."
DeMint's expertise on Russia was also called into question after he seemingly misrepresented the objectives of both the Bush and Obama administrations in deploying ballistic missile defense systems in Europe.
At a May 18 hearing, he complained that the current design of the system isn't sufficient to combat Russia's missile arsenal, which numbers into the thousands. "Is it not desirable for us to have a missile defense system that renders their threat useless?," he asked.
Both administrations have gone to great pains to explain that the system has always been aimed at Iran, not Russia, and it's hard to find a credible expert who believes that any feasible conception of missile defense could be built to overpower the Russian capability.
Inside the Obama administration, officials look at DeMint's Russia activity with a mixture of amusement and concern. They believe that he is sacrificing his own credibility by fumbling on the issue, but at the same time, they worry that foreign governments and publics might actually take him seriously.
"We are happy to let Senator DeMint keep digging away at the hole he is already in," an administration official told The Cable. "He seems to have forgotten that even the Rumsfeld-led Pentagon in the last administration explicitly ruled out a U.S. missile defense system targeting Russia's nuclear forces -- and for good reason."
But they don't discount the effect DeMint is having on the debate. Among administration officials, there is some legitimate concern that DeMint's statements only reinforce the paranoia of some elements in Russia (and China) that U.S. missile defense systems are indeed targeted at their strategic nuclear forces.
"It is unfortunate that the hard-liners in the United States and Russia feed off each other and feed the other's paranoia," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World. "Just as GOP senators quote Russian statements on missile defense to prove their case, Russians will be happy to quote Senator DeMint."
Sylvie Stein contributed to this article.
With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visiting Washington Thursday, the issue of Russia's occupation of Georgia is now on the agenda. The White House doesn't have any specific plans to advance its stated goal of getting Russian troops out of what Georgia claims as its own territory, but claims that the reset itself is already making the situation better.
"I guess the question is: Is Georgia and is the rest of Europe more secure today than they were -- than Europe was when we first got here? And I think our answer is yes," said Michael McFaul, senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, in a conference call Tuesday.
Russian troops have been entrenching their presence in the disputed territories of Abkhasia and South Ossetia since the end of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, in direct violation of the ceasefire agreement they signed to end the conflict. Russia is also among the only countries to recognize the regions as independent states.
"We consider their occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be illegitimate. And this is a position shared widely by the international community," McFaul said.
Basically, the administration's plan for Georgia is to continue to make its position clear to the Russians, continue to send economic aid to the Georgians, and wait patiently for those two things to produce some result.
"In addition to having a discussion and an argument, I would say, a disagreement about this occupation of these territories, we also have an interest in stability in the region, reducing tensions, expanding monitors, expanding transparency about what Russia is doing in these territories," McFaul said. "And we're perfectly happy to expand their understanding of what we are doing in terms of our cooperation with the Georgian government."
McFaul also pointed to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, which said that approval of NATO among ordinary Russians has gone up from 24 percent in 2009 to 40 percent this year.
"We think that that's evidence that if you have a substantive dialogue with Russia about security issues, even difficult ones ... that can improve the security for the United States, for Russia, and our allies in Europe and partners in Europe," he said.
The U.S. administration has made great efforts to de-link Georgia from other aspects of the U.S.-Russia relationship, arguing that that there is no reason not to make progress on issues where the U.S. and Russia share interests, such as arms control, nonproliferation, and economic cooperation.
"Even as we have differences, we can cooperate on areas of mutual concern, and of course the flip side of that is even where we cooperate on areas of mutual concern, we don't paper over our differences either," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on the conference call.
But Rhodes also suggested that better interactions with Moscow improve the chances that the Georgia situation can progress.
"We think that having the dialogue is in the ultimate interest of resolving these disagreements," he said.
Even Russia experts who favor the "reset" approach, however, are calling on the administration to change its tone on Georgia.
"We have a two-pronged policy: One is banging on the table and getting the equivalent of ‘shove it' from the Russians," said Samuel Charap, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "On other the other hand we have this traditional method of assistance to Georgia. I don't think any of this is getting at the real problem or getting us any closer to ending the Russian occupation of Georgia."
The U.S. administration should reframe the Georgia debate around common interests with Russia, Charap argues, based on the shared desire to prevent a new outbreak of violence there.
The White House should also take advantage of the fact that the Russians aren't happy with the status quo either, he said. Russian officials sometime refer to the disputed territories as a "suitcase with no handle," difficult to hold but too valuable to put down.
"At the end of the day, we don't actually have any leverage over the Russians on this," Charap said. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't stop trying to change what's going on there."
The U.S.-Russia "reset" begins phase two this week, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tours the United States and ends up face to face with U.S. President Barack Obama, almost exactly one year after their last summit meeting in Moscow.
Opinions on how the reset is going so far span the entire range of intellectual thought. Those who see Russia as a potentially constructive partner for the West are inclined to view the administration's policy so far as a largely successful start to a new warming of ties.
The White House points to the new START agreement and improved cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran as evidence that its strategy is working.
But for those who see Medvedev as little more than a puppet of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a ruthless operator who is simultaneously reasserting Russian dominance over its near abroad while repressing opposition and rule of law at home, the reset has failed to tackle tough issues while foolishly elevating Russia's status in world affairs.
"It's pretty clear that, whether you like it or not, the U.S.-Russia relationship has significantly improved," said Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes. "There is, however, the serious question of why it was improved, and most important, to what end."
Analysts hope this week's summit will at least clarify the debate.
"This is where we get to see if the reset is more than the sum of its parts," said Toby Gati, a former National Security Council senior director for Russia.
The Obama administration, Gati said, deliberately de-linked difficult issues in the U.S.-Russia relationship to allow progress on what was easier. Now, most of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, and what remains are issues like Georgia, missile defense, and nuclear technology sharing, where the two countries remain much farther apart.
"Now we can find out, did the reset make a difference on the issues that are more difficult?" Gati said. "Let's dive into the deep end. That's where we are now."
Medvedev's itinerary shows that modernization of the Russian economy -- which he has tried to make one of his signature issues -- is high on his agenda. He'll tour Silicon Valley and meet with tech leaders Tuesday, speak at Stanford University Wednesday, and then eventually wind up in Washington for a meeting hosted by the Chamber of Commerce before he sits down with Obama Thursday.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said that the two presidents will discuss President Medvedev's economic modernization and innovation agenda.
"President Obama has said that he would like to increase focus on our economic and trade relations, which are more limited than they should be given the size and strength of our economies," Vietor said. "We expect to discuss Russia's bid for WTO membership as well as the interruption of American poultry exports to Russia."
Even the WTO bid could prove divisive.
Fred Bergsten and Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute of International Economics argued last week in an article for Foreign Policy that "the remaining hurdles are modest" and said that the United States should try to strike a deal this week, but others in Washington disagree.
"The fact that Russia is not in the WTO is not America's fault; it is Russia's fault," said former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs David Kramer.
Russia was close to WTO membership last year when it upset the negotiations by announcing the formation of a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, Kramer noted.
"The problem is that the relationship itself became the goal; it became the end, and that's why there are these claims of significant success and this has given the impression to the Russians that we need this relationship more than they do," Kramer said.
And while the administration can try not to link big issues, Kramer argued, in some cases they are linked in ways that are simply unavoidable. Any WTO member country can potentially thwart Russia's accession, including Georgia.
Georgia is the one issue where NSC Senior Director for Russia Michael McFaul has admitted there has been "no progress" on what he calls the Russian "occupation" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Assistant Secretary of State Phillip Gordon said that Obama will raise the issue with Medvedev. "We are clear and strong on standing by Georgia and its territorial integrity," Gordon said.
The linkage will also come from Congress. Many on Capitol Hill are pointing to Obama's statement that the Georgia issue is "no longer an obstacle" to moving forward with a civilian nuclear agreement with Iran as evidence that linkage exists.
Lawmakers will also want to see Russia commit not to sell the S-300 missile to Iran before agreeing to allow the nuclear deal to go through, and Republicans in particular will be watching closely to see what Medvedev says about missile defense in relation to the new START nuclear reduction treaty.
The Obama administration is involved right now in missile defense cooperation talks with Russia, but they are not about setting "limits" on U.S. missile defense deployments, multiple administration officials told The Cable.
The Washington Times' Bill Gertz reported today that "The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses," and said "the administration last month presented a draft agreement on missile defenses to the Russians as part of talks between Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov."
U.S. officials and lawmakers have been calling for formal U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation for decades. When Ronald Reagan unveiled the original plans for missile defense in the 1980's, he repeatedly talked about sharing missile defense technology with Russia as a means toward eventually eliminating offensive strategic ballistic missiles.
Formal talks on cooperation date back to 1992. The most visible sign was the 1997 agreement to start the Russian American Observation Satellite (RAMOS) program.
An administration official explained to The Cable exactly what is going right now. "There is nothing secret about our intentions here," the official said, "Cooperation, not restrictions, on missile defense is the subject of conversations between the United States and Russia leading up to next week's presidential summit."
A "framework" or "draft agreement" is being considered, but it only covers future cooperation, not current deployment plans. The draft also includes data sharing, joint radar systems, and the like, but the U.S. side has been clear that limits on either the quantity or quality of missile defense deployments that fall outside the framework are not on the table. The Obama administration has requested $9.9 billion for missile defense in fiscal year 2011.
The Gertz story became a focus of the Senate Armed Services committee hearing Thursday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Joint Chiefs chairman Michael Mullen.
"We are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations," Gates testified, "but such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans."
Clinton addressed the Gertz story directly.
"Number one, there is no secret deal. Number two, there is no plan to limit U.S. missile defenses, either in this treaty or in any other way. And number three, on that score, the story is dead wrong," she said.
Supporters of the administration's decision last year to alter missile defense plans in Eastern Europe, have argued that the changes could pave the way for U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation.
"The President's decision also opens the door to missile defense cooperation with Russia, which would send a powerful signal to Iran," Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI said, adding that the administration's plan "will not threaten Russia, and it offers an opportunity for missile defense to serve as a uniting issue, rather than a dividing one."
The Russians don't see it that way, yet, but are engaging in the cooperation talks nonetheless.
The debate over missile defense limits is strongly tied to the ongoing drive to seek ratification of the new START nuclear reduction treaty, as today's hearing with Clinton and Gates demonstrated.
Conservative critics of the new START treaty have two missile defense-related gripes, however. They believe that a provision preventing interceptors being mounted on ICBMs is constraining, although the administration has said that is not part of the plan anyway.
They also point to Moscow's unilateral statement reserving their right to withdraw from the treaty if it concludes that U.S. missile defense deployments upset strategic stability. But the administration often points out that either side has the right to withdraw at any time, for any reason.
"It's the equivalent of a press release, and we are not in any way bound by it," Clinton testified.
The preamble to the START treaty acknowledges there is a relationship generally between between offensive and defense forces. "That's simply a statement of fact," Clinton said.
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