The Obama administration, in its drive to support disarmament advocates, is set to begin a new round of strategic arms talks with the Russians this month.
U.S. officials said the new talks are being dubbed "strategic stability talks" and will focus on trying to cut deployed and non deployed tactical nuclear arms, a task widely viewed by experts as impossible to verify, as well as further cuts in U.S. strategic weapons.
The new arms talks were announced Wednesday and will be led by Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control, who has led the administration's failed missile defense talks with Moscow.
Also involved will be Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for arms verification.
The talks are set to begin Dec. 14 in Washington, and the Russian delegation will be headed by Deputy Defense Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
U.S. officials close to the issue said the new effort is based on the administration's reading of the Senate resolution ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The resolution calls for working with Russia to reach an agreement that would "address the disparity between the [U.S. and Russian] tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles."
Russia has an estimated 2,800 tactical nuclear arms. In the past decade or so, the United States has cut its 4,000 tactical nuclear arms in Europe to about 200.
Critics of the impending talks say the administration is misreading the resolution by seeking additional strategic arms cuts, something that is not stated in the resolution. It says only that further strategic cuts must be done under formal treaty powers and not through an executive agreement that would not require Senate approval.
Arms-control officials fear the administration, in its effort to reach a new agreement, will cave in to Russian demands to include limits on U.S. missile defenses as part of the new talks.
Russia last week announced plans for military countermeasures to U.S. missile defenses in Europe after the U.S. rejected Moscow's demands for a legally binding agreement limiting the defenses.
The new arms initiative comes amid Russian complaints about U.S. missile defenses, which the Kremlin insists are secretly meant to counter Moscow's strategic arsenal.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that a new radar was activated in Kaliningrad and threatened new deployments of offensive missiles in western and southern Russia.
"I can't think of a worse time for any government to engage in talks with Russia on strategic stability," a senior Senate aide said.
State Department spokesmen had no immediate comment.
Russia has said it would not engage in arms talks on nonstrategic weapons unless missile defenses were included.
The administration insists its missile defenses are to defend Europe against Iranian long-range missiles.
Moscow also is seeking limits on U.S. conventional forces, space systems and the legally binding accord on missile defenses — all areas that could lead to U.S. national security compromises through the negotiations, the Senate aide said.
CHINA TELECOM THREAT
Rep. Frank R. Wolf this week called on Commerce Secretary John E. Bryson to brief Congress about a survey by the Commerce Department on whether Chinese telecommunications companies with ties to military and intelligence agencies have penetrated U.S. telephone and communications networks.
Commerce recently carried out a survey of U.S. telecommunications networks under the 1950 Defense Production Act.
"I believe that this survey is an important step toward developing a national policy to halt the penetration of the United States by firms like Huawei and ZTE, both which are closely linked to the intelligence services and military of the People's Republic of China," Mr. Wolf said in the Nov. 28 letter to Mr. Bryson.
Mr. Wolf, Virginia Republican, said complex hardware and software developed by such foreign companies "must not be allowed to compromise the security of the U.S. telecommunications system."
"That is why I strongly support the Commerce Department's survey to determine the depth of penetration by these Chinese firms on U.S. networks," he said.
So far, Commerce has failed to brief Congress on its assessment of the security of U.S. telecom networks.
The data would be useful for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which recently announced it was conducting an investigation into Huawei Technologies and ZTE, Mr. Wolf said.
Additionally, Mr. Wolf asked whether funds from the 2009 federal stimulus bill for Commerce's Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program, to expand Internet access in rural areas, were spent on Huawei and ZTE equipment.
Documents from the broadband program reveal that some contracts for telecommunications gear went to Huawei.
Mr. Wolf said some U.S. companies questioned during the Defense Production Act telecom survey "have been less than forthcoming" in providing information.
He noted that he authored recent legislation signed into law by the president that prohibits federal agencies from buying information technology without first conducting an assessment of its vulnerability to cyberespionage or sabotage.
"Given public and classified information that has come to my attention, I believe such an assessment will almost certainly preclude expenditure of taxpayers' dollars to purchase Huawei or ZTE technology," Mr. Wolf stated.
STRATCOM ON SPACE DEFENSE
Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said recently that U.S. space satellites that provide data for intelligence, missile guidance and commanding military forces can be disrupted from the ground, as well as by anti-satellite missiles.
To counter space threats, the military is increasing its resiliency and planning how to counter strategic attacks on satellites from the ground and from space.
Since 2007, when China destroyed one of its weather satellites in a ground-launch missile test, the Strategic Command and the U.S. military have increased efforts at "situational awareness" of space threats, Gen. Kehler said in a Nov. 22 interview.
"We're not as good as we need to be, but we're better at it," he said. "We put more resources against it, we have more people on the problem, and we are working with commercial and now international partners to get better at space-situational awareness."
Situational awareness, in layman's terms, is "understanding what is happening in space, what the threats might be to objects in space, what threats might exist to space capabilities," he said.
"For example, some of the largest threats that we might encounter are actually ground-based and they are jammers," Gen. Kehler said, "whether they are communications jammers or whether they are GPS jammers."
Compact GPS jammers that can foul navigation satellites can be purchased online, with some as small as a cigarette lighter, he said.
"I think you know the three C words that we've been using — competitive, congested and contested," Gen. Kehler said. "That's the direction we have seen things headed with regard to space, and we are working very aggressively to be prepared for this new reality."
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