Lugar to offer response on weapons pact

Senator John Kerry (D-MA)(L) speaks with financier T. Boone Pickens at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on May 19, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua INESS)
Senator John Kerry (D-MA)(L) speaks with financier T. Boone Pickens at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on May 19, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua INESS) (Joshua Roberts)
By Walter Pincus
Monday, September 13, 2010

The senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will present Democrats on Monday with his version of a resolution of ratification for the new START treaty, which may offer the best opportunity to gather needed GOP support for passage of the nuclear weapons agreement with Russia.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has been consulting with his Republican colleagues on the committee to come up with language that meets their varied concerns. He will formally offer it Thursday during a committee meeting as an amendment to a draft resolution circulated two weeks ago by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the panel, according to Senate staff members who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Postponed from August, Thursday's markup session may determine whether treaty ratification can pass the committee and go on to the full Senate for a vote this year, according to congressional sources.

Kerry, in a letter accompanying his early draft, suggested members put forward their own ideas before the Thursday markup session, according to Josh Rogin, who first disclosed the Kerry draft last week in his online column, The Cable.

The resolution is the means by which the Senate traditionally lays out its concerns and understandings about treaty language and sets out its interpretations without changing the actual text of the pact, which was signed in April by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"It can state the intent of the Senate and can force the president to certify executive branch policy or intent, but it cannot control the future nor should it change the terms of the treaty itself," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

On one of the most contentious issues raised by Republicans - future funding to modernize the nuclear weapons complex and support for refurbishment of stockpiled nuclear weapons - Lugar is contemplating an unusual step. He is writing into his resolution that if the billions of dollars proposed in Obama's 10-year stockpile plan are not sought by the president and approved by Congress, the United States may not remain a party to the treaty.

Republicans on the foreign relations panel have said they do not believe the $10 billion for nuclear-complex modernization over the next 10 years will be enough, but there is little the Obama administration can do to guarantee future spending beyond his term in office.

Republicans do not consider Kerry's language on the subject to be adequate. It says the United States is "committed to providing the resources needed to achieve these objectives at a minimum at the levels set forth in the 10-year plan." It adds that funding is expected to be "adjusted periodically to adapt to updated understandings of costs and requirements."

Another contentious issue is verification of the treaty's terms. Republicans have voiced concerns based on questions raised about Russian tactics during the term of the START I treaty, which ended last December. A State Department verification report released recently raised question about the number of warheads carried by Russian missile reentry vehicles. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sent Kerry a letter saying, "The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs, the Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, and I assess that Russia will not be able to achieve militarily significant cheating or breakout under New START, due to both the New START verification regime and the inherent survivability and flexibility of the planned U.S. strategic force structure."

The Kerry draft on verification will continue the practice of annual presidential reports detailing reductions in offensive arms and certifying whether Russia is in compliance or not.

Committee Republicans have voiced concerns about the range of activities to be undertaken by the Bilateral Consultative Commission set up to deal with issues that arise in implementing the treaty. A similar panel existed for START I. To head off concerns that the consultative panel might make substantive changes in the treaty itself, Kerry's draft says that the commission may only make changes to the protocol, the section governing technical issues "and only if such changes do not affect substantive rights or obligations under the Treaty."

Republicans have said they are worried that the commission will use its authority to inhibit or interfere with U.S. missile defense planning, and want to include specific language preventing it from dealing in any way with missile defenses.

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