In another sign of the State Department's dedication to getting the new START treaty ratified this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted top senators and staff for breakfast Tuesday morning in her private Foggy Bottom digs.
Up on the 8th floor over a menu of fruit, yogurt, and scrambled eggs, Clinton and Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher spoke and answered questions for 90 minutes about the new pact with Russia. Chief negotiator Rose Gottemoeller, State's congressional affairs chief Richard Verma, the Pentagon's James N. Miller, and the National Security Council's Gary Samore were also there. The congressional side included about a dozen Senate Foreign Relations Committee members and their aides.
The message was: "This treaty is good for national security," our inside sources reported, adding that Clinton wasn't supposed to stay the whole time but extended her appearance because she wanted to make sure she addressed all the questions posed thoroughly.
Some senators who were there include committee heads John Kerry, D-MA, and Richard Lugar, R-IN, as well as Europe subcommittee chair Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, Ben Cardin, D-MD, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY.
"It was a good meeting. We got good answers," Lugar told The Cable. Lugar supports ratification, but some other Republicans, notably Jon Kyl, R-AZ, are still keeping their powder dry.
Kerry told The Cable the breakfast meeting was "a good discussion about the substance of the treaty and how we will proceed."
The SFRC is setting up hearings now, with the chairs of the Strategic Posture Commission, former Defense Secretaries James Schlesinger and William Perry, up first on Thursday. A hearing with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger will follow that.
Our Senate sources say Thursday's hearing will be the chance for several GOP senators to air their objections to the treaty's language on missile defense. The treaty prevents the U.S. from mounting missile-defense interceptors on ICBMs or SLBMs, but the administration is arguing that doesn't "constrain" missile defense because it wasn't planning on doing that anyway.
The Senate GOP caucus held its own meeting on START last week, and we're hearing some GOP senators aren't buying that argument.
As for when the treaty might come up for a vote, Kerry wasn't committing to anything specific, but said he wanted to get it done "as soon as is practical."
"We're not going to have any specific [deadline] date out there, but we're going to move very, very rapidly to put all the hearings together and to put together the draft resolution and begin to move on it," he said.
Gottemoeller gave a hint during a speech Monday at a conference held by the Arms Control Association, saying that State would give Congress all the remaining documents: annexes, protocols, etc. "within the coming weeks."
One year after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Moscow to present the "reset" button to her Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Under Secretary of State William J. Burns expressed some discomfort with how the publicity stunt has colored U.S.-Russia-relations ever since.
"The concept of ‘reset' carried with it the misleading notion that the slate could be wiped clean with the push of a button, starting anew unburdened by the past. Reality, of course, is a little more complicated," Burns told an audience at the Center for American Progress Wednesday. "But for the first time in a long time, the possibilities before us outnumber the problems."
Burns, who was U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 2005 until 2008, has traveled there several times in his new role, mainly as part of his efforts to broker a fourth U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran over its nuclear program.
The under secretary's remarks echoed the friendly tone struck by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who told a Brookings Institution crowd Tuesday, "I am glad that in the past year plus we have managed to change the atmosphere of Russian-American relations."
Medvedev also reiterated Russia's position that a new round of U.N. sanctions on Iran may be warranted, but expressed his opposition to "paralyzing, crippling sanctions" that would hurt Iran's people -- a likely reference to broad-based restrictions on Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products, which some on Capitol Hill are pushing.
Listing a number of areas where the United States and Russia have managed to work together over the past year, notably in agreeing to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, Burns identified economic cooperation as "one of the most underdeveloped areas of our relationship."
Russia's economic ties to the United States remain embryonic, and Moscow has long accused Washington of holding up its bid to join the World Trade Organization over political matters. The United States imported just $18 billion in goods from Russia in 2009 -- about what it imported from Canada each month -- and exported just over $5 billion last year.
"The United States strongly supports Russia's accession to the WTO," Burns said, in an apparent response to Medvedev's complaint that Moscow should be admitted "without humiliation or new demands."
"We should have been in the WTO a long time ago," Medvedev said.
"We ought to be able to build on shared interests while not pulling our punches on differences, and take steps that benefit both of us without grand bargains or tradeoffs that come at the expense of others," Burns said. "That is admittedly easier said than done."
In another example of small accomplishments being rolled out during this week's nuclear summit, the United States and Russia are planning a ceremony to mark the update of a plutonium disposal agreement that was originally agreed to 10 years ago.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will sign an "amendment" to what's known as the U.S.-Russia Plutonium Disposition Agreement Tuesday on the side of President Obama's ongoing Nuclear Security Summit.
The original agreement was signed toward the end of Bill Clinton's administration in 2000 by then Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Both sides agreed to destroy 34 metric tons of plutonium. But the agreement never went into force due to disputes about the international funding assistance Russia said it needed for implementation.
The agreement "is very significant in the sense that over a period of a decade or so it will remove very large quantities of weapons-useable materials, and also it's an agreement that's been long stalled," the National Security Council's Gary Samore said on an April 9 conference call. "It was really President Obama's focus on this issue and the reset of his relationship with Russia that has finally been able to finalize this agreement."
The United States will spend $400 million to transform the Russian plutonium involved under the deal, nuclear expert Matthew Bunn told the Irish Times.
"This signing represents a major and essential step toward enabling full implementation of our two countries' obligation to safely and transparently dispose of such excess weapon-grade plutonium, enough material for several thousand nuclear weapons," the State Department said in a statement.
Despite a strongly worded statement issued Thursday, leading Republican senators have not yet decided to oppose ratification of the newly signed nuclear reductions treaty, multiple GOP aides told The Cable.
Republicans senators with a strong interest in arms control have been heavily involved in the debate over the new Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty with Russia, which U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in Prague Thursday. A tough statement issued Thursday evening by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ and Senate Armed Services Ranking Republican John McCain, R-AZ, led many in Washington to speculate that they were gearing up to oppose Senate ratification.
But that decision has not yet been made, GOP Senate aides close to the issue said. The offices of leading GOP lawmakers, not just Kyl and McCain, are still pouring over the treaty text and investigating whether or not what the treaty says about missile defense is really problematic for them.
"While we were initially advised that the only reference to missile defense was in the preamble to the treaty, we now find that there are other references to missile defense, some of which could limit U.S. actions," the senators wrote. "This has the potential to constrain improvements to U.S. missile defenses, if objected to by the Russians."
They added that it would be "difficult" to ratify START in the Senate if their demand for a "robust" nuclear modernization plan isn't fully met.
It's true that the administration said before the release that the text of the agreement would not include any references to missile defense and would in no way constrain U.S. missile-defense plans. It was always expected that the preamble would acknowledge the relationship between offensive and defensive systems and that the Russians would issue a unilateral statement acknowledging their right to withdraw from the treaty if they believe American missile defenses are upsetting "strategic stability."
But what surprised the GOP senators was this passage in the text of the treaty:
"Each party shall not convert and shall not use ICBM launchers and SLBM launchers for placement of missile defense interceptors therein. Each Party further shall not convert and shall not use launchers of missile defense interceptors for placement of ICBMs and SLBMs therein. This provision shall not apply to ICBM launchers that were converted prior to signature of this Treaty for placement of missile defense interceptors therein."
In other words, the treaty prevents ICBMs and SLBMs from being used for missile defense, a Russian concern. But the existing systems in Alaska and California are grandfathered in and the administration has no current plans to convert other ICBMs for missile defense use, an official explained.
Whether that represents a red line for Republicans like McCain and Kyl is simply not decided yet, our Senate sources said. The strong statement could be intended to establish a negotiating position to ensure they get what they are really worried about: a nuclear modernization plan that they feel safeguards U.S. stockpiles going forward.
Obama's Nuclear Posture Review, also issued this week, ends the prospects of building a completely new warhead, but the State Department is preparing a "stockpile management plan" and a "life extension program" for the old warheads that could do almost all the things a new warhead program would do.
A Wednesday statement by Kyl and McCain commenting on the release of the NPR also indicated that the two lawmakers are still processing the documents and open to supporting them if their concerns are addressed.
"We will evaluate this [NPR] carefully in the coming weeks, including when we see the modernization plan required by law at the time the START follow-on treaty is submitted to the Senate," they wrote.
So when might a vote on START happen?
The latest speculation is that the Senate would be wise to do it during the lame-duck session in November and December. This way, the administration and its supporters on Capitol Hill could avoid a lengthy debate just prior to the midterm elections but also get it done before the new Congress takes its seats, probably with even more GOP senators.
If the Kyrgyz opposition is able to maintain control after toppling the government, the Pentagon and State Department may have to renegotiate the U.S.-Kyrgyz agreement on a crucial U.S. air base there, experts warn.
It's only been a few months since the now-deposed Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbak Bakiyev, signed a new deal upping the rent on the Air Force Transit Center at Manas, which the U.S. depends on for critical supplies en route to Afghanistan.
Last February, there was a vote in the Kyrgyz parliament to end the arrangement, egged on by a Russia wary of the growing U.S. military presence in its near abroad. The man who led the opposition to the base in the legislature was former parliamentary speaker and opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, who now seems to be in control of the country, after being arrested and then released on Wednesday.
"We have to probably renegotiate the Manas basing agreement, because it was the opposition that pressured Bakiyev into renegotiating in the first place," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow with the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. "The leading opposition figures are not anti-American or more pro-Russian than anyone else in Kyrgyzstan, but because they led the drive to raise the rents they might have to reopen negotiations for political reasons."
And where there is a negotiation in Central Asia, there is a U.S.-Russia angle to worry about as well.
"This could be a relatively friendly negotiation, but the Russians could very well take the opportunity to meddle again," Petersen said.
Although Russia would have an interest in getting back at Bakiyev for finally striking a deal with the U.S., Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned the violence and denied any Russian role in today's events.
Meanwhile, it's still "business as usual" at Manas, according to a U.S. military spokesman.
"As of right now the air base is still open, the unrest has not impact operations on the base," said Shawn Turner, Pentagon public affairs officer. "It's getting a little tense."
Turner said he had no information that Bakiyev, who took over from Askar Akayev during the 2005 "Tulip Revolution," was holing up at the U.S. base, despite some rumors in the capital city of Bishkek to that effect.
"Folks at Manas tell us that business as usual and if he was there, that would be something that we would be aware of," Turner said.
Petersen said he was hearing Bakiyev has taken refuge in his home turf of Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan where he still has a power base. If he hasn't actually left the country, that could indicate the power struggle isn't over, he added.
The broader implication for the international community is the realization that the era of popular revolutions in Eurasia toppling unpopular government is still ongoing, and even democratic governments that don't live up to their ideals are vulnerable.
Although this latest unrest was sparked by the government's decision to raise utility prices by 200 percent, Bakiyev has been moving toward cronyism and corruption for some time, Petersen said.
"Color revolutions are not dead in this part of the world," he said, noting that what's going on in Kyrgyzstan has implications for Ukraine and Georgia. "If a color revolution goes authoritarian, you can have another revolution right on top of it."
Today on her Facebook page, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin linked to our post on Congressional pressure over Iran sanctions legislation.
So the issue is not when the so-called sanctions will come (President Obama promised them in "weeks" today) but whether they will even "nibble." And while the Obama administration was more than willing to use every parliamentary trick in the book to ram its government health care takeover through Congress, conversely, it has worked hard to stall bipartisan efforts to pass the Iran Sanctions Act.
Now that President Obama has announced he wants the new UN Iran sanctions "within weeks," it may be a moot point. Congress is likely to take at least that long to get a conference together, much less pass the result of the conference through both chambers again.
Nevertheless, glad to know The Cable is making it all the way to Alaska! (or at least to Palin's Washington foreign policy advisors).
During the most contentious moments of the U.S.-Russian negotiations over a new nuclear treaty, it often seemed as if Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were working at cross purposes.
Putin would make some public statements, usually about U.S. missile defense plans, that seemed to go far beyond what Medvedev and President Obama were saying publicly about how the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would deal with the issue, leading to the view in Washington that Putin was playing the role of the spoiler.
Not so, according to two senior administration officials, who said that the negotiations changed the way the Obama White House viewed the roles of Medvedev and Putin.
"What we learned through this negotiation was that the policy coordination on their side between President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin was very closely done and in perfect lockstep every step of the way," said one official. "He was saying exactly what President Medvedev was saying to us in private. There was not daylight between them; they did things pretty closely coordinated."
The Kremlinology going on inside the White House shows both how opaque the Russian system is and why the new treaty was so important to the Obama administration, which remains unsure of Russia's troubled path from autocracy to pseudo-democracy.
"Russia is a pretty volatile place politically," another official said. "Who runs that country 10 years from now and what their foreign-policy views are, we may not be in a reset mode. So the things we can do to maintain transparency now is a hedge against those kinds of outcomes in the future."
Overall, it was the personal involvement of Medvedev and Obama that pushed the negotiations past difficult roadblocks at several stages, they said.
"The chief negotiator and the person who really got this treaty done was President Obama," one official said, pointing to over half a dozen phone calls between Obama and Medvedev at crucial moments. "The big moves in the negotiation were always done by the two of them."
For example, during one round of talks on Feb. 24, Obama took a hard stand against Russian attempts to have language regarding U.S. missile defense in the treaty, which would be a nonstarter for many Senate Republicans whose support will be needed for ratification.
"In a very tough phone call, he just said to President Medvedev, ‘If you want this, we have to walk away from this treaty, we can't do it this way,'" one official remembered. "It was a pretty dramatic moment, but in retrospect, we now know that because Obama was so firm in that phone call, we got some motion in Geneva [where the text of the treaty was being negotiated] from that moment on."
When the two presidents spoke on March 26, when the treaty was finally complete, Medvedev began his call by saying in English, "If you want to get something done right, do it yourself." Obama replied, "Yeah, we were the ones who did it."
The administration officials also spelled out in detail how the new treaty will deal with the thorny missile-defense issue. There will be one line in the preamble of the treaty acknowledging that there is a connection between offensive and defensive weapons, and that's it.
There "could" be unilateral statements by each side about missile defense, the officials said, as if they weren't sure.
"If they were done, what would happen is the Russians would recognize that if the United States missile defense capabilities grew to such an extent that it would undermine strategic stability, they would have the right to withdraw from the treaty," one official said.
"If they did release such a unilateral statement, we would issue our unilateral statement that would say our missile defenses aren't aimed against Russia and are not intended to undermine strategic stability, but we are going to do them in cooperation with our allies irrespective of what the Russian unilateral statement says."
MAXIM SHIPENKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Now that President Obama has announced the completion of a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, the main question becomes: Will Senate Republicans support it?
If the most recent letter from Senate GOP leadership is any indication, not very likely. The letter written by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ. and obtained exclusively by The Cable, makes it clear that they don't view the compromise the administration reached on missile defense for the new treaty as acceptable.
The details of the missile defense language in the treaty weren't in any of the speeches or releases the White House put out on Friday, but The Cable got all the info from Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, on Wednesday, who got them from Obama himself. The treaty text won't include any reference to missile defense, but both sides will express their "opinions" about the linkage between the treaty and missile defense in the preamble, Lugar said.
That is almost exactly the original understanding that Obama and Medvedev agreed upon during their July meeting in Moscow and enshrined in the joint understanding they issued at the time. The administration can rightly claim a victory on this point, having held firm against Russian attempts to put the language in the actual text.
But that still might not be enough to satisfy Republicans on the Hill.
"As you know, it is highly unlikely that the Senate would ratify a treaty that includes such a linkage, including a treaty that includes unilateral declarations that the Russian Federation could use as leverage against you or your successors as missile defense decisions are made," wrote McConnell and Kyl.
Kyl has been saying similar things for months, but the addition of McConnell signals that this could become the official GOP position. Informed administration sources said they don't believe that McConnell has yet made a decision on whether or not to try to jam up the treaty as part of his overall drive to thwart any successes for the Obama presidency.
So bottom line, the jury is still out.
The administration's argument on the point is clear. "The Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs or current or planned United States long-range conventional strike capabilities," a White House fact sheet reads.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton diplomatically avoided a direct question about missile defense at this morning's briefing.
"We're focused on ratification, we're going to engage deeply and broadly with all members of the Senate," she said. "We're confident we'll be able to make the case for ratification."
She also pointed out that almost all previous arms reductions treaty garnered overwhelming support in the Senate. "There should be very broad, bipartisan support," Clinton said.
Gates said the United States will continue to engage Russia to try to make them a "participant" in the U.S. missile defense scheme in Europe.
Lugar intends to support the treaty and said he hopes the extensive congressional consultations and hearings will bring reluctant Republicans along. But he also said he doesn't expect a Senate vote on the new START agreement until after the August congressional recess, which means probably not until after the elections, when even more GOP votes could be present.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-MA, released a statement this morning pleading for bipartisan support:
"I know there has been a partisan breakdown in recent years, but we can renew the Senate's bipartisan tradition on arms control and approve ratification of this new treaty in 2010. I know that can happen. This is a moment for statesmanship. As soon as the President sends the agreement to the Senate, we will appeal to all our colleagues to set aside preconceptions and partisanship and consider the treaty on its merits. We can't squander this opportunity to reset both our relations with Russia and our role as the world leader on nuclear nonproliferation. This is a major commitment by both countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals and an important step in solidifying our relationship with Russia. Let's get it done."
As reported here before, Obama and Russian President Medvedev will meet April 8 in Prague to sign the new treaty. For more "key facts" about the agreement, read this.
Did you know there will be massive human rights protests across Russia this Saturday? Well, John McCain is all over the situation.
McCain, who famously declared "We are all Georgians" during the August War of 2008, gave a speech on the Senate floor calling on all Americans to get involved in the cause of human rights in Russia and lambasting the Kremlin for its harsh treatment of opposition and activist leaders.
"This is about universal values -- values that we in the United States embody but do not own ... values that should shape the conduct of every government, be it ours or Russia's or any other country's," McCain said, "And when we see citizens of conviction seeking to hold their governments to the higher standard of human rights, we should speak up for them."
McCain hasn't given up the cause of the Georgians since the end of the presidential campaign. He visited the country in January and made a stop at the border of the breakaway region of Abkhazia, where Russian troops still remain.
"I know that Washington has a lot of foreign-policy challenges at the moment, but we cannot forget Georgia and the support it deserves amid a continuing threat from its neighbor to the north," he said.
Back in 2008, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declared McCain a "national hero" of Georgia when he visited in January and gave him a Vietnam-war revolver (pictured) that was captured off a Russian soldier at the ceremony.
McCain also recently met with opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Washington. When McCain asked Nemtsov what Americans could do to support human rights activists in Russia, Nemtsov said, "Speak up for it. And speak up for us."
Here's what the State Department's newly released report on human rights practices had to say about Russia:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev next week in Moscow, a State Department official confirms to The Cable.
The meeting will cover ongoing negotiations to finalize the follow-on to the START nuclear reductions treaty as well as other issues of mutual interest. She will not meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who is most publicly criticizing the START negotiations and explicitly trying to tie them to U.S. missile-defense plans in Europe.
President Obama spoke with Medvedev over the phone regarding the START follow on last week, and the New York Times reported that Obama was surprised to learn in the phone call that the two sides were much further apart than he had expected. Forty-four nations will come to Washington in mid-April for a conference on nuclear disarmament and the administration would like to have a new nuke treaty to brag about by then.
"The secretary is going to Moscow for a Quartet meeting regarding the Middle East peace process," State Department P.J. Crowley told The Cable. "She will have a number of meetings while there. I am confident that the subjects will include not only the Middle East, but also Iran, START, and other topics. Our relationship with Russia is about more than one issue."For the latest on the START agreement and its chances of ratification in the Senate, read this.
Congress could ratify a new nuclear treaty with Russia this year, although that is going to be no easy task, four leading senators told The Cable in separate, exclusive interviews Tuesday.
The delay in the signing of the treaty, known as "New START," combined with the Russian decision to temporarily get up from the table, has led many on Capitol Hill -- on both sides of the aisle -- to argue that there is just not enough time to go through a lengthy treaty ratification process that Congress hasn't attempted in years. Many are skeptical that leading critics of the process will allow the ratification to go through, even when it reaches the Hill.
Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, who will be responsible for shepherding the treaty through the Senate, said its survival will depend on when it actually materializes and whether the administration is able to keep contentious issues like missile defense out of the document.
"It depends on when we get it; we haven't seen it," Kerry said. "The administration is appropriately holding out for what we need to make the treaty verifiable and that will help it pass."
Kerry said there are legitimate disagreements with the Russians, mainly over how to address U.S. missile defense plans, but the administration has to continue to try to minimize the presence of issues that could provoke a backlash among leading GOP Senators such as Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, who has been wrangling with the State Department over the negotiations.
"If the agreement is hailed as being pretty solid and doesn't set up a number of questions about America's security that can be exploited in the context of the debate, it could pass," Kerry said. "If it has those kinds of questions, it could be problematic."
As for whether there are 67 votes for it in the Senate, Kerry said, "I have no idea."
His counterpart, committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, was actually more optimistic.
"I remain hopeful that it will be signed and that there will be time assigned on the floor for debate and a vote this year," said Lugar, who added he would support the treaty "unless there are extraordinary changes beyond those that I've heard about."
He said it was not a foregone conclusion that Republican senators like Kyl, John McCain, R-AZ, and Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, would oppose the treaty, despite their written objection to the latest reports that Russia is planning to issue a unilateral statement reserving the right to withdraw from the new treaty if U.S. missile defense plans upset "strategic stability."
McCain told The Cable Wednesday he would be "adamantly opposed to including anything that has to do with missile defense, in anything," even a unilateral statement aside the treaty.
"Apparently we were very close to an agreement and it seems like there is some insistence on their part to include missile defense in some way," McCain said of the Russians, adding, "Jon Kyl and I find that totally unacceptable."
Another important player in the debate is Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Robert Casey, Jr., D-PA, who is taking on an increased role in nuclear issues. He was more optimistic than any of his counterparts about the prospects for ratification this year.
"I think we can do it and I think we should," Casey said. "Often in Washington the pronouncement of what's dead and what's alive is fiction. I think we can pass it and I think we should try to pass it."
"I don't think we have 67 votes today," Casey admitted. But he said vote counting should wait until the administration and the treaty's advocates have a chance to really push the debate.
"I don't underestimate the difficulty of making progress on START," Casey said.
As the Obama administration finishes up negotiations over the lynchpin of its strategy of hitting the "reset button" on U.S. relations with Russia, the "New START" nuclear arms reduction treaty, the big lingering question on everyone's mind is: Will the Senate actually be able to ratify the deal?
Senior Democratic senators, who strongly support the new treaty, aren't so sure.
"It's going to be hard to get it ratified," said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Levin said he hadn't done a vote count, but wasn't confident the treaty will get the 67 votes needed to make it the law of the land.
"I'm not even sure we'll get a referral from the Foreign Relations Committee," Levin added, promising to at least hold hearings on the issue.
Meanwhile, senior Senators such as Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, have been sending the administration public warnings about what they don't want to see in the agreement and have been using private methods to pressure the administration on the issue as well.
Kyl told The Cable in a brief interview Tuesday that he will not announce his stance until the final text surfaces, but there were some red lines that if crossed would trigger his opposition, which would be problematic.
"Unless it is accompanied by a [nuclear] modernization program that satisfies the requirements of the secretary of defense, it would be very difficult for the Senate to support the new START treaty," he said.
As Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher has said, the administration's new budget request does include a plan for what it calls "stockpile modernization," but Kyl complained that it "hasn't been fleshed out."
Administration officials tell The Cable they believe leading GOP voices like Kyl haven't yet decided whether to support ratification and are setting themselves up to be able to justify their decision either way when the time comes.
Kyl also stood by the letter that he, McCain, and Lieberman sent to National Security Advisor Jim Jones last week opposing any unilateral statement by Russia declaring its right to object to U.S. missile defenses by withdrawing from the treaty.
"I think it would be very damaging," Kyl said. "If there were a provision that the Russians would interpret as enabling them to unilaterally abandon the treaty if they didn't like what we were doing on missile defense, I think that would be very troubling to me and my colleagues in the Senate."
Levin countered that the prospect of Russia declaring its right to withdraw was no justification for standing in the way of the agreement.
"They can withdraw unilaterally for any reason, so I don't know that that's a good reason to object," Levin said, adding, "The United States withdrew unilaterally from the ABM treaty when we decided it was in our interest, right?"
A new gambit by Russia to link missile defense to a still-pending nuclear arms agreement is threatening to throw another wrench into plans to quickly sign and pass the deal in Congress.
The U.S.-Russian negotiations over the update to the recently expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty were supposed to be separate from the fraught issue of American missile defenses in Europe. After all, that's what Presidents Obama and Medvedev agreed to when they met in July.
Since then, Russian officials including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have explicitly linked U.S. missile defense plans to the treaty. Now, two sources who were briefed on the negotiations say the Russians intend to release a statement declaring their right to unilaterally withdraw from the new agreement if they believe U.S. missile defense deployments upset "strategic stability."
Nothing's final until announced, but three key senators are already warning that they can't go along with that. In a not-yet-released letter obtained exclusively by The Cable, Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, warn National Security Advisor James L. Jones, "Even as a unilateral declaration, a provision like this would put pressure on the United States to limit its systems or their deployment because of Russian threats of withdrawal from the treaty."
The State Department won't comment on the record about classified negotiations, but says that such side statements are commonplace.
"Anybody who knows anything about treaties knows that it is customary to be able to withdraw for reasons pertaining to one's national interest, so there's nothing new or diabolical here," said Jonathan Kaplan, a spokesman for Ellen Tauscher, the department's top arms-control official.
After all, the U.S. did withdraw unilaterally from the anti-ballistic missile treaty when the Bush administration concluded it was no longer in American interests. And besides, the Obama administration's plan for missile defense in Europe is not aimed at Russia, State insists. In fact, the Obama administration has made efforts to stake out areas of cooperation with Russia, although those have met with limited success.
U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle's recent blog post about ongoing negotiations for a START follow-on agreement does not represent a shift in the U.S. position, despite the articles saying so.
Written in Russian, Beyrle's post says, "The treaty deals with offensive, not defensive systems, but since we acknowledge a logical link between them, our presidents have agreed that the treaty will contain a provision on the interconnection between strategic offensive and defensive weapons."
The Associated Press declared on its own authority that "Beyrle's statement indicated the U.S. stance has shifted," and that "Beyrle's statement apparently reflects an attempt by Washington to overcome Russia's suspicions of the U.S. missile defence plans."
Not so, say our State Department sources, who point out that Beyrle was simply referring to the July 8 Joint Understanding between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which said that the START follow-on would include "a provision on the interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms," nothing more, nothing less.
Multiple senior administration officials have told The Cable that this carefully negotiated compromise was well understood to mean that missile defense would be delinked from the START negotiations -- and that was the assumption the American team led by Rose Gottemoeller was working under.
Moreover, the July 6 joint statement of Obama and Medvedev made it clear that missile defense would be dealt with separately from the START follow-on talks.
"Beyrle's post simply refers to what both presidents said they would do in July," one administration official said.
Recent statements by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Russian military leader Nikolai Makarov have brought the missile-defense issue back into the discussion over a START follow-on treaty. State Department officials have indicated that the specifics of a reference to missile defense in the agreement might not be finalized.
"It's possible that the treaty text will refer to missile defense, but I can't do a play by play," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Thursday. But Beyrle's blog post is not an announcement of any such shift, and negotiations over the remaining details in the treaty are ongoing.
France's announcement that it will sell an advanced amphibious assault ship to Russia should not complicate ongoing negotiations over Iran sanctions, according to the State Department's top spokesman.
Lawmakers had threatened that if the French government went through with the sale, which would be the first major arms sale to Russia from a NATO country, they would retaliate by resisting administration efforts to exempt France and other countries from sanctions in the Iran legislation making its way through Congress.
It was never clear how serious the threat was, but nonetheless the administration says it will insist on the exemptions, despite the French decision.
"I wouldn't blend the two together," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who noted that negotiations between the administration and lawmakers over Chris Dodd's Iran sanctions legislation are ongoing.
"One of the issues we will be talking to Congress about is to make sure the president has sufficient flexibility to be able to work with other countries effectively for our shared goal of finding ways to put appropriate pressure on Iran to change course," Crowley added.
The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent late last month but the administration will argue for its changes when the bill meets the House version in conference. That conference is not expected until after the administration pursues a new U.N. resolution on Iran.
As for the weapons deal with Russia, "obviously is it something we will consult with the French on and other countries in the region," said Crowley, referring to statements by Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday, who was in Paris. Gates signaled American displeasure with the decision but declined to specify what the U.S. might do about it, if anything.
France's announcement that it will sell the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship to Russia comes at a delicate time for U.S. relations with and Russia, not to mention Georgia, which sees the ship as a potential threat.
Almost every article about the Mistral quotes Russian Adm. Vladimir Vysotskiy, who said in September that the ship "would have allowed [Russia's] Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes" during the 2008 Georgia war, "not 26 hours which is how long it took us."
Russian leaders have distanced themselves from Vysotskiy's statement, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear he will not foreswear using the Mistral wherever his government pleases.
Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for the issue formerly known as Af-Pak, will visit Georgia "shortly," with plans to finalize the deployment of Georgian troops to Afghanistan.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg revealed that Holbrooke will go to Georgia while traveling in Tbilisi Friday. Sources said the current thinking is that the visit will occur toward the end of February.
So what will Holbrooke be doing there? Well, in addition to possibly discussing Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili's offer to allow his country to become a supply route to Afghanistan, which Steinberg reportedly said was a Pentagon matter, Georgian sources tell The Cable that Holbrooke will be putting the final touches on the plan to deploy Georgian troops to Afghanistan in March.
In Georgia, they are calling it the "Holbrooke Brigade," according to a source close to the Georgian government. The plan is for 750 Georgian troops to be deployed in Helmand province at the personal request of Gen. David Petraeus, the source said, who was impressed with their effectiveness along the Iranian border during operations in Iraq. According to the current plan, they will be under U.S. command and supplementing 350 Georgian troops already in country as part of the International Security Assistance Force.
It will be the largest per-capita contribution of any country in Afghanistan other than the U.S. One lingering question that the Georgians plan to raise with Holbrooke is whether the U.S. will offer them any military aid for the mission. The U.S. has not provided any lethal military aid to Georgia since their war with Russian in 2008, but the Georgians may need some items, such as parts for the U.S.-made M4 rifles they will be using in the Afghanistan mission.
In a December report, Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, argued for an end to the unofficial ban of U.S. lethal military aid to Georgia, arguing that the increase of Russian arms near there was dangerously tipping the balance.
"The United States, under substantial Russian diplomatic pressure, has paused the transfer of lethal military articles to Georgia, and no U.S. assistance since the war has been directly provided to the Georgian Ministry of Defense," the report stated. "Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."
When The Cable reported in October that there were severe problems with the U.S.-Russian agreement to transit war supplies over Russian space to Afghanistan, the Obama administration was not happy.
Sure, there were some "technical details" to be worked out, U.S. officials said, but that was par for the course and would be smoothed over soon. So now, half a year after the deal was signed, how many flights have gone off?
Only one, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Radio Free Europe.
To be fair, the American side disputes that figure. U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle said, "In fact there were five, and 11 more are planned."
But that's still somewhat short of the 4,500 flights per year that were expected when Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev made the agreement in July.
"Hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship," writes Politico's Ben Smith.
New York Times reporter Peter Baker had some good details on what the problems were and some sharp analysis as well:
The agreement to allow American troops and weapons to fly over the territory of Russia, its onetime cold war enemy, was seen as a symbolic breakthrough as much as a logistical one, and administration officials argued that it was a triumph even if no planes actually ever used the route. Still, just as some people in Moscow appear apprehensive about American forces in their airspace, some American officials are wary of putting too much faith in the Russians, who could easily close down the corridor if political tension rises again.
Were you wondering what the last remaining sticking point was inside the U.S.-Russian negotiations over a START follow-on treaty? Well, as it turns out, the issue is ... rocket science, and, more specifically, telemetry data.
What's telemetry, you ask? In this context, it's the assurance that if either side tests a missile, the detailed data about the test would be instantly available in real time to the other side. That assurance was part of the original START treaty, which expired in December, and the Obama administration wants similar language in the new treaty but the Russians are resisting.
Many insiders see the telemetry issue as somewhat of a red herring. New verification and tracking technologies, most of them classified, can provide the same capability without the Russians directly providing the data. But a lack of a provision on telemetry could complicate Senate ratification of START.
"For the United States, the politics matter because certain senators will go nuts without access to the data," said Travis Sharp, a nonproliferation expert at the Center for a New American Security. "Substantively, however, the United States may not need the same level of information as negotiated under START I, particularly because ‘New START' will likely have streamlined counting and verification rules and technological advancements allow us to get the data in other ways. On the other hand, Russia politically doesn't want our noses in their business and substantively is hesitant to give up too much information."
A diplomatic source told The Cable that the Russians are bargaining for access to telemetry data for U.S. missile defense tests in exchange for giving America telemetry data on their offensive missile tests. That's only their latest attempt to link START and missile defense, another potential problem for Senate ratification.
"Everybody knows that telemetry is bullshit [substantively], but it's become an issue nonetheless," the source explained. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been trying to link missile defense to START recently and this is one example.
"If we want to retain the balance, we have to establish an exchange of information: Let the U.S. partners provide us information on [their] missile defense while we will give them information on [our] offensive weapons," Mr. Putin said last month. The Russians are also pushing to have an acknowledgment of the relationship of missile defense to offensive weapons in the main body of the START agreement text, while the U.S. wants it in the preamble, the source said.
A very carefully worded acknowledgement of the link was included in the joint understanding Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in July.
Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher talked about the telemetry issue Wednesday morning and said that the "expectation has always been" that telemetry, which is very important to the Pentagon, would be included in the new treaty as "part of confidence building and to reassure both sides there won't be any sort of surprises."
She confirmed that telemetry was among the final issues on the table but portrayed it as not a major substantive issue.
"Telemetry is one of the last things to be done, but it's not a big issue or the most important thing," she said, adding that sometimes the fact that certain provisions were in a previous treaty creates the expectation that they will remain in the next treaty.
She implied, but didn't state explicitly, that the U.S. was not going to agree to share missile-defense data in exchange for the Russians agreeing to share their offensive telemetry data.
"This agreement is about strategic offensive systems. Missile defense is a defense system," she said.
One GOP Senate aide disputed Tauscher's assertion that telemetry isn't a major issue. The U.S. technologies that are said to compensate for a lack of telemetry data aren't necessarily 100 percent effective, the aide said, adding that not having access to Russia's data would add burden to the U.S. defense community that it didn't have before. "Why should we spend our resources on this when telemetry data gives us that capability for free?," he asked.
Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller is in Moscow now and could head back to Geneva later this month with her team to try to complete the agreement. Jan. 25 is the date being bandied about for the resumption of talks, but the Russians have yet to agree to return to the table.
The administration needs to get it ratified by the time the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference begins in May.
With Barack Obama's pledge to rid the world of nuclear weapons faltering out of the starting gate, leaders of the arms-control community convened a major meeting Tuesday to gear up for their biggest fights in years. The next few months will be critical, insiders say, with a number of key international treaties up for renewal and battle lines being drawn in Washington and abroad.
About 50 senior think tank and advocacy executives packed the K Street conference room of the Ploughshares Fund to strategize and rally the troops for the upcoming policy war. "This is going to be the fight of our lives," Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione told The Cable shortly after the meeting concluded.
A huge part of the effort will be to hold the administration to the ambitious arms-control agenda President Obama laid out in his Prague speech last April.
"The debate on Washington on these issues has been dominated by the conservatives because the administration has yet to take the field," Cirincione said. "That's about to change ... finally!"
The next six months will see either the significant advancement or the defeat of a host of arms-control priorities. The agenda includes ratification of the still-pending START follow-on agreement with Russia, the February release of the president's budget, the March release of the Nuclear Posture Review, a major summit on nuclear terrorism in Washington in April, and the Nonproliferation Treaty conference in May. A push for U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is also coming.
The Obama administration has been occupied with other crises and not eager to take on nuclear issues despite a heartfelt belief in their merit, Cirincione said. "They want to play it safe." The administration's window for action is open but small. By the end of summer, the congressional elections will crowd out Washington's bandwidth.
"If it doesn't get done by July, it doesn't get done," he said.
So the meeting, which included representatives from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Arms Control Association, the Council for a Livable World, the Federation of American Scientists, and others, was about marshalling those organizations' combined resources and preparing a full-on campaign to press their shared goals now.
The loosely organized group's strategy is fourfold: Push out facts and talking points supporting nuclear-weapons reductions into the press, increase the profile of the military, business, and religious leaders who back lower numbers of nuclear weapons, push sympathetic senators to be more active, and rally potential allies to the cause.
"There's really no secret to how you go about doing this, Cirincione said. "The trick is actually doing it." Crucial Senate allies include John Kerry, D-MA, Robert Casey, D-PA, Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Jack Reed, D-RI, and Byron Dorgan, D-ND, while conservatives such as Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and James Inhofe, R-OK, are set to press the administration for maximum concessions before letting any arms control action go through the Senate.
The advocates worry that such conservatives have controlled the debate over arms control, and that they need to shift to more of a hard-nosed Washington approach in response. Sources noted that Ploughshares has hired the Glover Park Group public relations firm to aid its messaging.
There's also a growing realization that continued delays in the negotiations over the START follow-on agreement with Russia mean that time is running out before the summer election season begins.
An agreement with the Russians could come this month, with debate in the Senate by the end of March. But, as The Cable has previously reported, another Senate debate over CTBT before July is seen as much more unlikely.
Regardless, the arms-control community is girding for the fight. "It was a call to action meeting and this high-level group is primed to put the expertise and resources of our organizations behind the effort," said the Arms Control Association's Daryl Kimball.
The Obama administration's rollout of its new nuclear strategy will be delayed until March, the Pentagon told Congress last week.
The notification came in the form of a letter from Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller to Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services committee, respectively. The letter, obtained by The Cable, said that the new strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, will be delivered to Congress on March 1, not Feb. 1 as was previously planned.
The announcement comes amid reports that the NPR is mired in an internal administration debate over some key issues, such as whether or not to abandon a "first use" policy, how many nuclear weapons are needed for whatever missions the NPR identifies as crucial, and how far the review will go toward advancing President Obama's stated goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.
But arms-control advocates see the delay as not so surprising (what review isn't delayed in Washington?) and they argue that the postponement will give the administration more time to give the NPR the senior-level attention it deserves.
"It's not particularly surprising. I believe it's due to the fact that principals haven't been able to really dig in to the substantive issues of the NPR," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
Some who favor sharp reductions and more commitments to a nuclear drawdown see the delay as one last chance to have their views considered by the White House and the National Security Council, which may have a different take than the Pentagon on some issues. For example, the Pentagon is said to be against adopting a "no first use" policy and may still be pushing for a new class of nuclear warhead.
The Bush administration program to build a new warhead, called the Reliable Replacement Warhead, is dead, senior administration officials such as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher have said repeatedly. But Tauscher and other have also indicated that they would present a budget in February that meets Senate Republican calls for "stockpile modernization," although there is no consensus on what that means.
"The trouble in the debate is that the term ‘modernization' gets used to describe a number of things, from new weapons to improvements to the nuclear weapons complex, and other things as well," said John Isaacs, executive director at the Council for a Livable World, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the goal of zero nuclear weapons that Obama announced in his Prague speech.
All 40 Senate Republicans and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman penned a letter to Obama in December specifically outlining several points they said must be included in the stockpile modernization program, which they are demanding in order to support the follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, which is being negotiated now.
The relationship between the NPR and the START follow-on agreement is an interesting one. It would seem that the administration would have to know its overall nuclear policy before negotiating weapons levels, and yet the START agreement may come out before the NPR.
Administration officials have told The Cable that the NPR tasked out a set of weapons numbers to inform the START negotiations months ago, so there shouldn't be any problem. Besides, the NPR is setting policy for future reductions, not just those to be agreed to in this negotiation, experts point out.
But for Senate Republicans, that explanation is simply not enough.
"The key thing for senators is, they do not understand how officials are in Geneva discussing force-level reductions and meanwhile the NPR is apparently delayed," said one senior GOP senate aide, adding that the GOP was not being briefed on the NPR's progress.
Meanwhile, the aide said that the follow-on START agreement could be ratified in the Senate only if the stockpile-management aspects of the president's budget meet the demands in the letter and if there is no link between START and missile defense, despite statements from the Russian side.
"If we wanted to kill the treaty, we would just let them negotiate a bad treaty and then kill it in the Senate," the aide said. "We're trying to help them come up with a treaty that can pass muster in the Senate."
UPDATE: Lt. Col. Jonathan Withingon, spokesman for the Pentagon policy shop, e-mails in this explanation in response to our request for an explanation for the delay. "As we're nearing completion, the Department requires additional time to appropriately address the range of complex issues under consideration in the Nuclear Posture Review."
Vladimir Putin deliberately threw a wrench into U.S.-Russian negotiations over a follow-on to the START nuclear reductions treaty yesterday when he explicitly linked the issue to U.S. missile-defense plans.
But what's not mentioned in these otherwise excellent articles by the New York Times' Ellen Barry and the Washington Times' Eli Lake on the development is that the prime minister's comments directly contradict the July 6 joint statement of U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who made it clear that missile defense would be dealt with separately from the START follow-on talks.
Moreover, in their July 8 Joint Understanding, the carefully negotiated compromise was spelled out. The START follow-on would include "a provision on the interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms," nothing more, nothing less. Multiple senior administration officials have told The Cable that this compromise was well understood to mean that missile defense would be delinked from the START negotiations -- and that was the assumption the American team led by Rose Gottemoeller was working under.
Some on the Obama team are now suggesting they have already
factored in these types of games coming from the Russian side.
"This is not unexpected and negotiations will resume in mid-January as we have said they would," said an administration source familiar with where things stand.
So what's going on? Well, there are two schools of thought among Russia experts. One is that Putin's comments represent a clear difference between his view of U.S.-Russia relations and Medvedev's. Medvedev, who is supposed to be in control of foreign policy, is more conciliatory and wants genuine rapprochement, the argument goes, whereas Putin ... not so much.
Under this theory, there are two power structures in Moscow and they are jockeying for control. But even in this analysis, time and time again, Putin seems to win the day by making the final decision.
"Perhaps there is a power struggle, but if there is, it's being overwhelmingly won and controlled by Putin's faction," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "Supposedly the idea was that Medvedev would tackle these types of issues. But then all the sudden Putin steps in and completely undermines him. Every time the going gets tough, Putin steps in and takes the reins."
The competing theory is that Putin and Medvedev are working somewhat in lockstep, again with Putin calling the shots and benefiting from the illusion of a power split. For Putin, it's useful to have Medvedev out there as the nice guy (aided by the fact that he may genuinely want to cooperate), setting up a good cop/bad cop routine. That catches Western officials off guard and makes it convenient for Putin because he can wait until negotiations with Medvedev play out and then make his move at the eleventh hour.
The bottom line is that the START talks now seem to be at an impasse. Since the administration doesn't deal directly as much with Putin's faction, resolving the dispute is problematic. And although the Obama team denies that its adjustment of plans to deploy missile defense to Poland and the Czech Republic was a concession to Russia, it would be a tough sell domestically to make any further concessions on missile defense and still get START ratified in the Senate.
So what can the administration do? Petersen recalls a similar incident when Ronald Reagan was negotiating the original START agreement with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik. Gorby demanded that START be linked to U.S. missile defense and Reagan said it was not negotiable and walked out of the room.
"The result of Reagan taking a hard line was that it wasn't linked from the beginning," said Petersen.
More broadly, the question is: What do the current problems with the START process say about Obama's pledge to reset relations with Russia? Perhaps that Russia is looking at the long term and isn't confident that Obama's overtures will be continued by successive administrations.
"They view Obama as somewhat of an anomaly in U.S. foreign policy, and START is for decades," Petersen said.
For the U.S. side, this might also change the calculation about giving Russia concessions before a negotiation is near completion.
"You give them a finger and they take an arm," said Petersen. "With this statement [from Putin], the debate has shifted completely."
"It would certainly make the treaty dead on arrival in the Senate," said one senior GOP Senate aide, who added that senators will be watching to make sure the Obama administration won't cut any side agreements involving the missile-defense program.
Were you keeping a list of senior GOP lawmakers who are weighing in to oppose the potential French sale of the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship to Russia? If so, add Indiana Senator Richard Lugar to that list.
Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, released a report Tuesday that calls on NATO to take a lead role in coordinating security assistance to Georgia, the culmination of a staff project that included a trip to Tbilisi in late October. The report's conclusions are stark in terms of Lugar's view on how Georgia is faring one year after the Russian invasion.
"As a result of Russian diplomatic pressure and threats to restrict commercial ties with entities selling defense articles to Georgia, the Georgian military has been unable to replenish much of its military capacity that was eviscerated in the war," the report reads.
The last tranche of U.S. post-war assistance to Georgia, $242 million to round out the $1 billion commitment, was notified to Congress in December and went through without objection. The report highlights that the Obama administration decided not to use any of that money to shore up Georgia's lethal capabilities.
"The United States, under substantial Russian diplomatic pressure, has paused the transfer of lethal military articles to Georgia, and no U.S. assistance since the war has been directly provided to the Georgian Ministry of Defense. Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."
Lugar argues that Georgian military weakness increases the risk of armed conflict by pinning the Georgians into a desperate position and raising the possibility of conflict-starting miscalculations.
Despite the unfortunate headline in this otherwise strong Associated Press article, Lugar is not calling on NATO to arm Georgia, exactly. His more nuanced view is that NATO must establish a leadership role in maintaining the security balance in the Caucasus, which is tipping more every day toward the Russian advantage.
That's where the French sale of the Mistral comes in. Several senior GOP lawmakers have come out strongly against the potential sale of the ship, introducing bills and writing letter focused on strategic or tactical concerns.
Lugar's concern is more of a diplomatic one, and it relates to the integrity of NATO as much as the security of Georgia. He references the possible sale of the Mistral specifically.
"Failing a coordinated, NATO-led strategy for security assistance in the region, allies run the risk of disturbing an already fragile political balance and engendering an excessive nationalization of Georgian defense policy."
It remains to be seen if NATO will embrace the role of coordinator for security for Georgia, especially since Georgia seems as far away from NATO membership as ever. But regardless of whether Georgia get in or stays out, NATO is going have stake in Georgian security issues from now on and Lugar's point is that should include ensuring NATO allies don't take unilateral measures to upset the military balance.
Have you heard of the French ship called the Mistral? Well, you're about to. Several senior members of the U.S. Congress are becoming heavily involved in trying to thwart the possible sale of the Mistral from France to Russia.
The Mistral is France's state-of-the-art amphibious assault ship, and discussions of selling it to the Russian Federation have been causing angst in European capitals for months. The sale would be the first significant arms transfer from a NATO country to Russia and what's more, the Russians have already indicated that it could be used in future operations in countries in its near abroad, such as Georgia, which it invaded last year.
Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy said in September that "In the conflict in August last year [against Georgia], a ship like that would have allowed [Russia's] Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours which is how long it took us [to land the troops ashore]."
This is just one of the concerns that prompted Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to introduce a bill late Thursday that would express the sense of Congress that "France and other member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union should decline to sell major weapons systems or offensive military equipment to the Russian Federation."
The resolution alleges that Russia remains in violation of the French-brokered ceasefire that followed the Georgia invasion. Also, Russia is expanding its military presence in a way that threatens Georgia, and has made a number of aggressive moves toward several countries in the region, according to the text. The sale of the Mistral to Russia "would enhance that country's ability to potentially wage aggression against its neighbors," the resolution states.
Ros-Lehtinen is calling on President Obama, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to urge France not to sell major offensive weapons systems to Russia until Russia completely withdraws from Georgian territory and makes broad reforms in areas ranging from rule of law to human rights.
The bill has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for consideration, but that's only the beginning of coming U.S. congressional involvement on the issue. Multiple Senate aides tell The Cable that several senators from both sides of the aisle are busily drafting a letter to the French Embassy calling on France to hold off on the sale. That letter is expected early next week.
There goes the neighborhood?
The 650-foot long Mistral is the second largest vessel in the French Navy and each one is capable of carrying up to 16 helicopters, tanks, land assault vehicles, and 900 troops.
In addition to Georgia, the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are also concerned about the Russians buying such a ship, especially from their fellow NATO and EU member France. Serious discussions have been initiated within NATO by these states about the possible deal.
"I'll say it quite bluntly --it has implications for NATO's security, because of what we saw last year," Marko Mikhelson, chairman of the European affairs committee in Estonia's Parliament, told the New York Times.
Despite that, the French sailed a Mistral directly past these states to the port of St. Petersburg last month to show off the ship for the Russian government. And Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin refused to rule out using the ship against the Baltics on his recent trip to Paris.
"Whoever we buy it from, we will reserve the right to use it where and when we consider necessary," he said.
The Baltic states have protection as part of NATO and the EU. Georgia? Not so much. A senior Georgian government official spoke with The Cable about that country's concerns about the sale.
"We have experienced ourselves that Russia is capable of using military force against its neighbors," the official said, pointing out that Georgia has less ability to build international support for their opposition to the deal.
A French Embassy spokesman told The Cable that the sale of a Mistral-class ship to Russia is still a project and no decision has been made by either the Russians or the French.
"There is a Russian request and we see no reason to refuse considering that request, which will be examined with all the necessary precautions as part of the military equipment export control regulatory procedures and will take time," the spokesman said.
He pointed out France has used Mistral-class ships for humanitarian missions and to evacuate nationals from dangerous situations.
The French have also have made the argument that selling arms to Russia is needed for peace and stability in Europe. "It would be impossible to call for continental stability in partnership with Russia if we refuse to sell armaments to Russia. A refusal would amount to contradicting our own discourse," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon reportedly said.
And while the French have said they would sell a scaled-down version of the Mistral without some weapons and advanced-control technologies, American defense experts warn that the sale could start a chain reaction of European states selling sensitive military technologies to Russia to shore up their struggling defense industries.
"Given the shrinking defense budgets of European countries and the pressure to keep domestic defense firms from going under by expanding exports, there is little question that less and less restraint would be shown by competing governments and companies on what could be sold to Moscow," wrote Gary Schmitt, defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Moreover, "there is the signal such a sale would send Moscow about just how unserious the West is in holding Russia's feet to fire over its invasion of Georgia and the terms of the subsequent agreement," he said.
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is headed to Russia soon, just as a U.S. government team is also on its way there to deal with problems surrounding a new U.S.-Russian agreement to transit lethal materials through Russian space to supply U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The controversial Holbrooke has had an ever-growing portfolio since taking on the Afghanistan/Pakistan mission, not to mention a staff that's grown from an initial 15 to more than 30 people. There are conflicting accounts of whether Holbrooke would deal with the Russians on the problems implementing the transit agreement. An interagency technical team is also on the way to Moscow to deal with the same issue, two administration officials confirmed.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told The Cable that Holbrooke is going to Russia "for meetings with his special representative counterpart and to discuss U.S.-Russia cooperation regarding Afghanistan," but said he couldn't be more specific.
"He doesn't do Russia," said one administration official who was surprised to hear Holbrooke was on the way there. Several sources said that Holbrooke's famously aggressive style and lack of history in dealing with the complicated and difficult Russians made him a particularly surprising choice to send there. "He's probably the worst personality that could be picked for something like this," said another experienced Russia hand.
The State Department could not confirm the specific date, but the trip is expected soon; a senior official described Holbrooke's mission in veiled terms only as discussing "political issues at a high level."
Speculating on Holbrooke's international standing throughout the region is somewhat of a parlor game for the diplomatic community. Despite his AfPak job, Holbrooke has not been to Afghanistan since before the disputed presidential elections in August; his lack of appearances there recently prompted many to think he was not welcome, in light of a reported feud with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Indians have also made it clear they are not interested in being included in Holbrooke's sphere of policy influence. Holbrooke maintains he has just been hard at work in Washington dealing with the administration's Afghanistan strategy review.
Nevertheless, there are increasing signs Holbrooke's reach is widening. A team from Holbrooke's office is currently in Beijing for discussions with Chinese officials on both Pakistan and Afghanistan, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, multiple sources tell The Cable that there are problems with the U.S.-Russian agreement to allow lethal military materials pass through Russian space on the way to Afghanistan. The deal, agreed to in July during Obama's trip there, is the one tangible example of progress in the administration's effort to "reset' U.S.-Russian relations.
"We're trying to build a more constructive relationship with Russia," said Kelly. "Two of the best examples of our cooperation are the lethal transit agreement and cooperative counternarcotics training."
But the Russians are now attempting to place new conditions on the supply routes, the sources said. For example, Russia is demanding to know exactly what items are in each shipment before allowing them to go through, a condition the U.S. military is not about to meet.
The U.S. government is receiving different messages from different segments of the Russian government, the sources said, complicating the matters. Another part of the Russian government demanded a tariff be paid on U.S. shipments entering Russia on their way to Afghanistan, a complete surprise to the U.S. side.
Update: Holbrooke is also headed back to Afghanistan, his first trip there since August, at the end of his whirlwind trip around Europe, his spokesman said.
Holbrooke is currently en route to Berlin, after which he will travel to Paris, then Munich, then Moscow, before heading to Kabul. The trip is part of his regular diplomacy to consult with allies and partners on the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review currently ongoing, the spokesman said.
Holbrooke’s trip to Russia is not primarily to deal with the lethal transit agreement between the U.S. and Russia, the spokesman explained. An interagency task force is in Moscow to iron out implementation issues with that agreement, but that is a coincidence, the spokesman said.
Holbrooke has a long history of dealing with the Russians, including a personal relationship with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the spokesman explained.
The spokesman could not give details about who exactly Holbrooke would meet with either in Moscow or Kabul.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama did in fact deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, former prize winner and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev said in an exclusive interview with Radio Free Europe.
"I won it unexpectedly and he won it unexpectedly," Gorby told the U.S. government-funded outlet based in Prague. "America means a lot [to the world] and will continue to do so for a long time ... That's why [we have to] support a president of such stature, who gave his own country and the world such a strong push forward. And it's already showing real effects. That's honorable."
The former leader also talks about the state of Russian democracy, the Russian opposition, and corruption in the Russian government. RFE characterizes Gorbachev's role and reputiation:
Hugely popular abroad, Gorbachev has long been widely disliked at home for bringing about the end of communism. He remained active in politics, co-founding the Social Democratic Party. But when he ran for president in 1996, he won less than 1 percent of the vote.
Since Putin's rise to power in 2000, Gorbachev has often been among the first to criticize new authoritarian measures in Russia, especially restrictions against the free press, independent politicians, and nongovernmental organizations. But he's been a consistently ardent supporter of the man many believe responsible for the country's direction: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
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The Obama administration's new missile-defense scheme was not designed to appease Russia, but if the Russians like it, that would be a great side benefit, the State Department's top arms-control official said Wednesday.
Ellen O. Tauscher, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, defended plans to overhaul Bush administration design for missile defense in Eastern Europe in a speech today at the Atlantic Council, a transatlantic-themed Washington think tank.
"There was no attempt to curry favor with the Russian government or to secure some kind of tradeoff in our negotiations for a START follow-on treaty," said Tauscher, responding to mostly conservative critics who have tried to frame the Obama missile-defense plans as a unilateral concession to the Russians.
"Now, if, as a consequence of the change in the direction of our European-based BMD plans, Moscow now understands that our future BMD deployments will not pose a threat to Russia's strategic deterrent, and thus is now open to cooperation, including in BMD, then that is an added benefit to our initiative and we should embrace it," she added, referring to ballistic missile defense.
Tauscher said that the Obama administration is seriously interested in missile defense cooperation with Russia, including taking up the Russian offer to share data from the Russian-leased, Azerbaijani-owned early warning radar at Qabala, and the early-warning radar at Armavir in southern Russia.
Tauscher and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov will cochair the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission's working group on Arms Control and International Security, one of the committees announced after the July summit meant to shore up relations on a host of issues, in Moscow next week.
Cooperation with Poland and the Czech Republic, which were supposed to have housed the Bush administration's missile-defense infrastructure, will continue in a new form, Tauscher said, but she acknowledged the rushed announcement of the decision may have exacerbated those countries' angst over the changes.
"Now I will be the first to admit, since I had to jump on a plane at the last minute to fly to Warsaw and Prague, that the rollout could have been handled better," she said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also scheduled to travel to Moscow this month and Vice President Joseph Biden will go to Warsaw and Prague, his office has announced.
As the Obama administration negotiates with Russia over a new nuclear arms reduction treaty, Senate Republicans are already planning their strategy to demand maximum concessions in exchange for their potential support.
The Senate Republican Policy Committee, led by South Dakota's John Thune, shown at left, is circulating a memo (pdf) outlining the GOP strategy to deal with the "follow on" to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires December 5. According to the memo, obtained by The Cable, the Republicans have a long list of demands, some of which are unlikely to be met when the administration rolls out the new agreement.
"A treaty meeting the goals articulated in this paper is more likely to gain the two-thirds majority necessary for Senate consent," the memo explains.
The differences between administration plans and GOP demands are likely to complicate the push for ratification in the Senate, which is expected early next year.
The core strategy for the Senate Republicans will be to try to frame the nuclear reductions as a unilateral concession that President Obama is making to the Russians.
"The United States should not pay for what is free," the memo states. "Russia's nuclear numbers will decline dramatically in the coming years with or without an arms control treaty. The United States should not make important concessions in return for something that will happen in any event."
Republicans will also call on Obama to justify the arms reductions in the context of American security interests, not simply U.S.-Russia relations.
"Russia needs this agreement far more than the U.S. does. It is desperately trying to lock the U.S. into lower nuclear levels, not the other way around."
GOP senators such as minority whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, have been accusing Obama of rushing to get an agreement, a theme the strategy memo says will continue as Republicans argue that an extension of the old terms is preferable to a bad treaty.
Specifically, the memo sets three basic conditions for Republican support.
First, the new treaty should not constrain U.S. missile defenses, the GOP senators argue, nor should it impinge upon the military's plans to develop what's called "global strike" capabilities -- the ability to attack any target in the world at any time.
In a previous interview with The Cable, a senior administration official said there would be no specific treaty language on missile defense, but that some verification of conventional systems such as those used in global strike might be covered in the final version.
Secondly, Republicans are demanding the administration submit a modernization plan for the nation's nuclear stockpile at the same time as the treaty. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher has said that such a plan will be submitted in next year's budget but will not include the Bush administration's proposal for building a new type of nuclear weapon, called the Reliable Replacement Warhead.
The third condition, the one the administration won't be able to deliver to Republicans, is their call for Russian tactical nuclear weapons to be covered in the new treaty. The senior official had said that would not be part of these negotiations, but could be covered in the next treaty, what insiders are calling "the follow on to the follow on."
The administration's negotiating team, led by Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, has been traveling back and forth to Geneva to negotiate terms with the Russians.
And Tauscher is testifying today to the House Armed Services Committee on the administration's recent decision to alter missile-defense plans in Europe, a decision she maintains was also not a concession to Russia.
"Nothing that we did had anything to do with Russian saber-rattling or their consternation about the ground-based interceptors or the Czech radar. The decision was not part of any trade-off or quid pro quo," Tauscher said, adding, "If, as a consequence of President Obama's decision, relations with Russia improve, then we should embrace that benefit."
UPDATE: The Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation's Kingston Reif writes in to point out that while the GOP strategy memo quotes the Perry-Schlesinger Commission more than two dozen times, it never mentions that the group of bipartisan elders actually endorses the START follow-on process. Here's a quote from the report:
"The moment appears ripe for a renewal of arms control with Russia, and this bodes well for a continued reduction in the nuclear arsenal. The United States and Russia should pursue a step-by-step approach and take a modest first step to ensure that there is a successor to START I when it expires at the end of 2009."
FILE; Mark Wilson/Getty Images
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of today's briefing by spokesman Ian Kelly:
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of today's briefing by spokesman Ian Kelly:
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of today's briefing by spokesman Ian Kelly:
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.