- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2010

Senate Republicans are challenging the Obama administration on the new strategic arms accord with Russia, proposing new language to the treaty’s ratification resolution that would bar limits on U.S. missile defenses.

A draft ratification resolution, sent out on Monday by Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, would prohibit a U.S.-Russian panel established in the treaty from forging side agreements on missile defenses. The Senate panel is scheduled to vote Thursday on the treaty signed earlier this year.

The administration on Monday dispatched Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, to talk with Republican staff about Mr. Lugar’s draft. One Senate aide said Ms. Gottemoeller is opposed to the draft’s language because it will complicate treaty implementation with the Russians.

Ms. Gottemoeller and State Department spokesmen declined to comment on the Republican draft resolution.

Republican support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is important for the White House, which has made Senate approval of the treaty a high priority and the centerpiece of its “reset” policy with Russia. The treaty, which requires 67 votes in the Senate for passage, would further reduce the Russian and U.S. nuclear missile arsenals to 1,550 deployed warheads.

Republicans have conditioned their support for the treaty on two key issues. One is that the administration must commit to modernizing the nuclear warheads the United States will keep after the treaty’s reductions. The Obama administration pledged this year to boost spending for the U.S. nuclear labs by $10 billion over 10 years, so overall spending would be about $80 billion in that time period.

More important, Republicans say, is that a panel established by the treaty, known as the Bilateral Consultative Commission, could be used to modify U.S. missile-defense plans in the future without the administration coming back to the Senate for approval.

In testimony before Congress, senior Obama administration officials have said there is no way the New START treaty would affect missile defense.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton trumpeted the importance of the agreement and knocked Republicans for politicizing it.

“With Russia, when we took office, it was amid cooling-to-cold relations and a return to Cold War suspicion,” said Mrs. Clinton. “But anyone serious about solving global problems such as nuclear proliferation knew that without Russia and the United States working together, little would be achieved. So we refocused the relationship. We offered a relationship based on not only mutual respect, but also mutual responsibility.”

Mr. Lugar’s draft resolution states that “any additional New START Treaty limitations on the deployment of missile defense beyond those contained in paragraph 3 of Article V, including any limitations agreed under the auspices of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, would require an amendment to the New START Treaty, which may enter into force for the United States only with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

Article V limits putting missile-defense interceptors in offensive missile silos. The Pentagon has said it has no plans now to do so, but missile-defense advocates say a future system could benefit from using deactivated missile silos for long-range defensive interceptors, like several currently at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Russian differences with the United States over missile defenses were spelled out in a unilateral Russian statement that is not part of the formal treaty. The statement said any expansion of U.S. missile defenses would lead to Moscow’s withdrawal from the treaty. Critics said the statement could be used by anti-missile defense critics in the Obama administration to limit future defenses.

The Lugar resolution language differs from a separate draft proposed last week by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and committee chairman. That draft states “the Bilateral Consultative Commission may reach agreement without resorting to the procedure in paragraph 1 only on changes to the Protocol, and only if such changes do not affect substantive rights or obligations under the Treaty.”

“Lugar’s draft resolution is a work in progress, but it appears to be a serious effort that should be the basis for strong committee approval of the treaty,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the private Arms Control Association. “It will likely undergo further modification between now and the vote on Thursday.”

Of the specific missile-defense language, Mr. Kimball said, “It has been clear from the get-go that the operative language in the New START treaty only affects offensive systems and it does not affect planned missile defense systems.”

He added: “This language is clarifying that fact. It is addressing a concern, albeit a silly one, that the Bilateral Consultative Commission might somehow reinterpret the treaty. Any changes to the treaty need to be approved by the Senate.”

On the other major issue for Republicans — the commitment to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal — the Obama administration has committed $624 million for the current fiscal year and plans on making that $1.6 billion for the next fiscal year.

Senate Republicans and the heads of the U.S. nuclear labs have expressed worries that most of the funding for the modernization comes more than four years from now and thus may not be enough to fix problems with the aging arsenal.

The draft resolution from Mr. Lugar states that if there is not enough money for nuclear-infrastructure modernization, the president must submit a report to Congress to determine whether “in the changed circumstances brought about the resource shortfall, it remains in the national interest of the United States to remain a Party to the New START Treaty.”

Thomas D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy agency that oversees the U.S. nuclear labs, said in an interview Monday that he has received high-level White House support for plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear-weapons infrastructure.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and a key figure supporting the nuclear-modernization issue, told reporters last month that he may be seeking more money and an independent revenue stream for the modernization project. He did not, however, commit to specific increases.

Mr. D’Agostino said that the four main projects he supported for modernization included a new uranium-processing facility; a chemistry and metallurgy research facility; upgrades to the B61 nuclear gravity bomb program; and a new “life-extension” program for the W78 and W88 nuclear warhead.

“It’s difficult for anyone to say how much those projects are going to cost now. These are the projects that need to be baselined,” he said when asked about Mr. Kyl’s concerns about funding for nuclear-arms upgrades.

“It may end up being the projects are at the upper end of the ranges we previously had estimated. That is no problem because the administration says they are going to support these projects.”

Mr. D’Agostino said that in the next two months he was going to receive new audits on these projects for their costs and begin the process of determining “how much it will cost, and what you need to build, and how long it takes to build.”

For now, Republicans are still waiting to follow the leads of Mr. Kyl and Mr. Lugar. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said, “The minority leader has said Sen. Lugar and Sen. Kyl are the leaders on this. If they both support the treaty, it makes it a lot easier to proceed with it, and if they don’t, then it doesn’t.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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