Report findings about Russia could complicate debate on new START pact

By Walter Pincus and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The United States believes Russia is not fully complying with international pacts involving chemical and biological weapons, although Moscow has settled most questions about violations of a nuclear arms treaty with the United States, according to a State Department report to be made public Wednesday.

The State Department Compliance Report had been requested earlier this month by seven of the eight Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They were concerned because the last report in 2005 highlighted what they described as "direct violations of START I by the Russians, " a reference to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 1991.

The report comes at a crucial time, as the Senate considers a new treaty that would replace START I. The Obama administration hopes to have it ratified by year's end, when Democrats will likely lose some of their Senate seats. The Foreign Relations Committee could vote on the treaty as early as next week.

But key Republicans are establishing tough conditions for approval -- including ironclad commitments from the White House to dramatically increase spending on the maintenance of the nuclear-weapons complex. President Obama has tried to address those concerns by laying out a plan to spend $80 billion on the nuclear weapons complex over the next decade.

The new compliance report, obtained by the Washington Post, says that several issues raised in the 2005 version have been resolved, on subjects such as the movement of Russian road-mobile missiles and inspection of reentry vehicles. But the report may nonetheless fuel the debate over the new treaty, because it says a number of other compliance issues remained unresolved when the treaty expired last December. The unclassified version of the report does not identify them.

To pass, the treaty will need at least eight Republican votes plus those of all 57 Democrats and the two independents. Most Republicans haven't yet indicated which way they will go.

In recent weeks, the battle over the treaty has intensified, with the Heritage Foundation launching a nationwide campaign against it, and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney branding it Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake."

For its part, the administration has amassed a bipartisan national security Who's Who of supporters of the treaty, including five former defense secretaries and six former secretaries of state.

On Tuesday, seven of the eight retired commanders of U.S. nuclear forces added their voices to those calling on the Senate to ratify the treaty. "We will understand the Russian strategic forces much better with the treaty than would be the case without it," said the letter to the Senate foreign relations and armed services committees.

It was signed by every leader of the strategic nuclear command from 1981 to 2004, except retired Adm. Richard W. Mies.

The new treaty would reduce each side's deployed long-range nuclear warheads to 1,550, from 2,200. The treaty preserves a 15-year-old verification system that allows the Russians and Americans to "look under the hood" of each other's nuclear facilities.

Some critics say they don't want to kill the treaty. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Republican whip, said he wants to ensure enough funding so the nuclear-weapons complex is still effective. Republicans are also concerned about whether the new treaty could constrain future U.S. missile defense systems.

Some treaty supporters suspect that Republicans are dragging their heels to deny Obama a victory before the November election. Kyl rejected that idea.

"It is not my purpose to delay, but if our legitimate requests are not dealt with appropriately, then it could be delayed," he said in an interview.

The full compliance report, with classified sections, was sent to Congress earlier this month, but many senators have not yet read it.

The document says the U.S. government does not believe Russia is in compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention because it has not declared all its stockpiles nor destroyed those it has acknowledged, despite a 1997 plan to do so.

The report also says Russia may not be in compliance with the international convention banning biological weapons. Russia committed in 1992 to dismantle a secret biological weapons program it inherited from the Soviet Union. Although Russia has said it is in compliance, it has "not satisfactorily documented whether this program was terminated," according to the report.

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