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Lugar on State Dept. re-org: Not so fast!

The Senate’s leading Republican voice on foreign policy is raising questions about the State Department’s new plan to reshuffle its arms-control bureaus. Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week about his concerns with the new plan, in a letter (pdf) obtained exclusively by The Cable. ...

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The Senate’s leading Republican voice on foreign policy is raising questions about the State Department’s new plan to reshuffle its arms-control bureaus.

Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week about his concerns with the new plan, in a letter (pdf) obtained exclusively by The Cable. Lugar wrote that he was generally supportive of the 2005 reorganization of the arms control functions at State, and he’s concerned that Clinton’s rollback of those reforms might not jive with Congress’s view of how the arms-control functions should be divided, a view enshrined into law in 1999.

Specifically, Lugar is questioning Clinton’s idea to take most arms-control functions out of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) and give them to the Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation (VCI), which will be renamed the "Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance." Adding arms control to the bureau’s portfolio will help consolidate and strengthen that effort within T, a State Department official told The Cable.

But Lugar wants those functions to remain in separate shops. "It has been and remains my view that the evaluation of any treaty’s verifiability should be a function separate from the efforts to negotiate it," Lugar wrote.

Of course, the VCI bureau, led by Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, is already playing the leading role in arms-control treaty negotiations, most prominently in the START follow-on talks with Russia, which are ongoing.

A senior Republican staff member on the Foreign Relations Committee, speaking to The Cable on background basis, said the formalization of that arrangement is exactly what Lugar wants to have a say about. Many in Congress think that verification should be separate so that officials examining the accountability in a treaty would not be the same ones who negotiated it.

"Let’s say someone has an issue with treaty verification. If the advocate they go to is the same person doing the negotiating, would they expect their concerns to be properly considered? Would they even go to them at all?" the staffer explained.

State has been clear that no decisions have been made and any changes would be done in consultation with their employees and Capitol Hill. But Lugar’s letter can be seen as an opening salvo in those talks and he is making his position clear.

"To the extent your proposed reorganization contemplates new missions for the VCI bureau, I will support only those that do not continue to blur the line between officials who negotiate agreements and those who verify them," Lugar wrote. "There should be a clear wall of separation between negotiators and verifiers to ensure the credibility of treaties and agreements negotiated and presented to the Senate for advice and consent."

Lugar also lamented that the ISN bureau is still without an assistant secretary. State Department officials have told The Cable that State has passed on the name of Steve Mull to take over for acting assistant secretary Vann Van Diepen, but the White House has yet to move to formalize the Mull nomination.

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