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GOP memo spells out demands on START talks with Russia

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 ...

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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.

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

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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