Democracy in Action & Peter Baker / The New York Times – 2010-11-17 21:54:19
Get Our Nuclear Arms Inspectors Back on the Ground in Russia
Democracy in Action
(November 17, 2010) — The original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the US and Russia expired on December 5, 2009. For nearly one year, there has been no monitoring of Russian nuclear activities or stockpile. To remedy this, President Obama and Russian President Medvedev negotiated the New START agreement, which was signed in April 2010. Currently, two key members of the Senate, Sen. McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Kyl of Arizona, are preventing the New START agreement from coming before the full Senate for ratification.
In a statement released on November 17, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said:
“It is vitally important to America’s national security for the Senate to ratify the new START treaty before Congress adjourns this year. We need our inspectors back on the ground and the critical information they can provide about Russiaâ€™s nuclear capabilities. Ratification of this treaty would accomplish both.”
The New START agreement is about more than bringing down strategic nuclear arsenals on each side to 1,550. It is also about building cooperation and showing the world that we are taking steps toward fulfilling our disarmament obligations. It will allow an important component of Ronald Reagan’s philosophy on nuclear arms reduction to continue: “Trust, but verify.”
Write to your Senators today and ask them to pressure Senators McConnell (R-KY) and Kyl (R-AZ) to allow the New START agreement to come before the full Senate for ratification.
While New START may not be a perfect treaty, the consequences of a failure to ratify would be a severe setback to global nuclear disarmament. The treaty has strong support from the US military and a recent poll shows that nearly three-fourths of Americans want to see it ratified.
GOP Opposition Dims Hope for
Arms Treaty With Russia
Peter Baker / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (November 16, 2010) — President Obama’s hopes of ratifying a new arms control treaty with Russia by the end of the year appeared to come undone on Tuesday as the chief Senate Republican negotiator moved to block a vote on the pact, one of the White House’s top foreign policy goals, in the lame-duck session of Congress.
The announcement by the senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican point man on the issue, blindsided and angered the White House, which vowed to keep pressing for approval of the so-called New Start treaty. But the White House strategy had hinged entirely on winning over Mr. Kyl, and Democrats, who began scrambling for a backup plan, said they considered the chances of success slim.
Winning approval of the treaty will only become harder for the White House next year, when Democrats will have six fewer seats in the Senate, forcing the administration to rely on additional Republican votes to reach the 67 needed for ratification.
The treaty, which would force both countries to pare back nuclear arsenals and resume mutual inspections that lapsed last year for the first time since the cold war, is the centerpiece of two of Mr. Obama’s signature goals: restoring friendly relations with Russia and putting the world on a path toward eventually eliminating nuclear arms. A failure to ratify the treaty could freeze both efforts and, some analysts said, undermine Mr. Obama’s credibility on the world stage.
“Failure to pass the New START treaty this year would endanger our national security,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has led negotiations with Mr. Kyl, said in a statement. It would mean “no verification regime to track Russiaâ€™s strategic nuclear arsenal,” Mr. Biden said, and would sour a relationship that has helped open a new supply route to troops in Afghanistan and increase pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program.
“Given New START’s bipartisan support and enormous importance to our national security, the time to act is now, and we will continue to seek its approval by the Senate before the end of the year,” Mr. Biden said.
Both parties had considered Mr. Kyl the make-or-break voice on the pact, with Senate Republicans essentially deputizing him to work out a deal that would secure tens of billions of dollars to modernize the nationâ€™s nuclear weapons complex in exchange for approval of the treaty.
Over many months of negotiations, the administration committed to spending $80 billion to do that over the next 10 years, and on Friday offered to chip in $4.1 billion more over the next five years.
As a gesture of commitment, the White House had made sure extra money for modernization was included in the stopgap spending resolution now keeping the government operating, even though almost no other program received an increase in money.
All told, White House officials counted 29 meetings, phone calls, briefings or letters involving Mr. Kyl or his staff. They said they thought they had given him everything he wanted, and were optimistic about completing a deal this week, only to learn about his decision on Tuesday from reporters.
Mr. Kyl said he informed the Senate Democratic leader that there was not enough time to resolve all the issues during the lame-duck session that opened this week. “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,” Mr. Kyl said in a written statement.
Mr. Kyl declined a request to be interviewed. Asked if the senator’s statement was meant to close the door to a lame-duck vote, his spokesman, Ryan Patmintra said: “Correct. Given the pending legislative business and outstanding issues on the treaty and modernization, there doesn’t appear to be enough time.”
Some Democrats hoped there was still an opening. “I talked with Senator Kyl today, and I do not believe the door is closed to considering New Start during the lame-duck session,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has presided over most of the 18 hearings on the treaty and secured endorsements from prominent Republican national security figures.
Mr. Kerry plans to hold a news conference on Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, a Republican treaty supporter. Mr. Biden said the administration would still support the additional $4.1 billion it offered Mr. Kyl on Friday.
Since a treaty requires a two-thirds vote, the White House needs at least eight Republicans in the departing Senate and thought it had a dozen ready to vote yes if Mr. Kyl assented. Without him, though, they began melting away. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who voted for the treaty in committee, said Tuesday he now questions whether it’s “even practical for the administration to rush passage of the Start treaty during this lame-duck session.”
A Democratic leadership aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be more candid said, “If the Republicans’ lead negotiator says we shouldnâ€™t consider Start during a lame duck, I think we have to take him at face value. Having said that, we are going to try and get it ratified in the lame duck.”
The Kremlin did not respond to the development, but Russian officials have expressed fear that Republican victories in this month’s midterm elections would damage relations. “We don’t have confidence that the document will secure enough votes,” Konstantin I. Kosachev, chairman of a parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said earlier in the day, according to the Russian news media. “The problem is not that the document is bad. We are confronting the fact that Republicans refuse to ratify the treaty.”
Mr. Obama had assured President Dmitri A. Medvedev during a meeting just two days earlier that winning approval of the treaty was his â€œtop priorityâ€ in foreign affairs for the lame-duck session. If he cannot, it may embolden hard-liners in Moscow who have been skeptical of the so-called effort to “reset” the relationship with Russia.
“Start was the linchpin on which a lot of the reset was built,” said Angela E. Stent, director of Russian studies at Georgetown University. “What impact, if any, will it have on Russia’s willingness to cooperate on Iran or on Afghanistan?”
Critics have said that such worries are overstated and that the Obama administration was too willing to curry favor with Moscow at the expense of American national security.
Baker Spring, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Kyl was simply acting to ensure that the nation’s nuclear program was adequately maintained. “I do not understand why the White House would label this obstructionism,” Mr. Spring said. “It appears to be stepping away from its previous acknowledgment regarding the need to improve the nuclear weapons complex.”
If the issue carries over to the new Senate, it could be months before it is taken up again, and its chances would be even more uncertain given the Republican gains in this month’s elections.
The treaty would restore mutual inspections and prohibit both countries from deploying more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers each. The administration hoped to follow up this treaty with another more ambitious one to reduce tactical nuclear weapons and stored strategic weapons.
It also hoped to follow up by reviving the never-ratified Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. And it envisioned negotiating another new treaty that would cut off new production of fissile material.
Even as the Start treaty appeared imperiled, the administration announced on Tuesday that this weekend it expected NATO to approve, at least in concept, a European missile defense system, aimed largely at defending against an attack launched from Iran, though the allianceâ€™s leaders will not identify by name any country they are trying to defend against.
When Mr. Obama goes to a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon this week, Ivo Daalder, the United States ambassador to NATO, told reporters, one of the major issues will be whether the alliance is prepared to defend “against armed ballistic missiles coming towards NATO territory,” and he said that “alliance leaders will answer that question positively, we expect.”
But Turkey has balked at aspects of the plan, for fear of angering Iran. The declaration this coming weekend will leave unclear what form the missile defense system will take, and will also remain silent on the future of tactical nuclear weapons still based in Europe.
Mark Landler and David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington, and Clifford J. Levy from Moscow.