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Kerry on START: Let’s vote on it during the lame-duck session

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said today that there’s not enough time to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty before the elections, but there should be a chance to pass the treaty when the Senate returns to Washington in November. “I think the reality is… to push it in the next week ...

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said today that there's not enough time to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty before the elections, but there should be a chance to pass the treaty when the Senate returns to Washington in November.

"I think the reality is... to push it in the next week or two would be a mistake, given the election. So let's just get it out of committee and hopefully set it up to do without any politics, without any election atmospherics, as a matter of national security when we come back in the lame-duck," Kerry said in an interview Tuesday. "That's what I'd like to see."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said today that there’s not enough time to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty before the elections, but there should be a chance to pass the treaty when the Senate returns to Washington in November.

“I think the reality is… to push it in the next week or two would be a mistake, given the election. So let’s just get it out of committee and hopefully set it up to do without any politics, without any election atmospherics, as a matter of national security when we come back in the lame-duck,” Kerry said in an interview Tuesday. “That’s what I’d like to see.”

Kerry’s comments match those of his GOP counterpart Richard Lugar (R-IN), who said Monday evening that he doesn’t see any way the treaty could get the needed floor time before the Senate adjourns again in the beginning of October.

But his comments seem to contradict those of the treaty’s lead negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, who said Tuesday morning that she still hoped the full Senate would act on the treaty in the next few weeks. The treaty goes into effect 60 days after both Russia and the United States ratify it, and the goal is to have it in effect by the end of the year, Gottemeoller told a group of defense reporters.

Regardless, few on Capitol Hill believe that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will spend precious floor time this month on the treaty. Even after the Senate returns following the November mid-term elections, there still might not be enough time to consider START, Kerry warned.

“If the lame duck session is a one week session, I would be surprised if anything but the most simplistic things pass. If there’s a longer lame duck session, it’s possible something larger and more sweeping could pass,” he said.

Kerry said he needs only two days of Senate floor time, maybe three, to debate and then vote on the treaty.

He also said that he was open to supporting the resolution to be put forth by Lugar at Thursday’s committee hearing, rather than the version he circulated early last week.

“Mine was put out as a discussion draft to elicit from them exactly the things that are not being talked about,” Kerry said about his draft, which was first posted on The Cable. “We’re working very closely together, but I’m certainly prepared to agree to a substitute [from Lugar] if it meets with our needs as well.”

There was a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity going on Tuesday regarding the START treaty. Late Monday, Lugar circulated his latest draft, obtained by The Cable, as negotiations continued between the committee staff, various Senate offices, and the administration.

Treaty supporters are hoping to get as many GOP committee votes as possible and have been working hard to address the concerns of Republican senator who will vote on Thursday.

One of those GOP senators is Bob Corker (R-TN), who said Tuesday he will cosponsor the Lugar resolution on Thursday and vote in favor of the treaty at Thursday’s committee session.

“I think we’re moving in a very good direction,” Corker told The Cable. “Based on what I know now, I certainly plan on voting it out of committee.”

He predicted that when the treaty reaches the Senate floor, there will be other amendments and reservations put forth, so no final prediction could be made. But Corker said he was cautiously optimistic about the path forward.

Kerry said that when the treaty does reach the floor, senators should keep in mind that the Russian Duma is waiting to see what the Senate does before it acts on the treaty.

“President Medvedev said this to me personally, the Duma is waiting to see what happens here and how the treaty is treated in the United States,” Kerry said. “That will have an impact on what they do just as their actions would have an impact on us. So I think we need to be sensitive to that.”

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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