Today’s Qs for O’s WH – 4/8/2010

By Lindsey Ellerson

Apr 8, 2010 3:52pm

Yunji de Nies: In that same conversation with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, they seem to indicate that the START treaty is not at all a done deal for them.  He said to us that they don’t want to hold the Duma hostage and that they hope to have something passed by the U.S. midterm elections when it comes to START ratification.  Is that a timeframe that works for the U.S.?  And what is the parallel timeline for the Senate?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the timeline that we’ve largely laid out is this year.  So I think the timeline that he laid out seems quite parallel to what we’re doing.  I've made this point on a number of occasions; I'll take the opportunity to do it again, as the President did.  I think if you look at a series of nuclear arms reduction treaties, you see broad bipartisan majorities.  You see votes in the 90s; you see the dissenting vote in the single digits.  This has traditionally been a bipartisan issue. 

That is why you have folks like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, who have taken the positions that they have.  You see Senator Lugar as somebody, again, who wants to see the Senate take this up and work on it quickly.

So I do think it will be a test for Washington to see whether or not the traditional bipartisanship that we have generally seen on these types of treaties — 1988, 1992, 2003 — if that kind of bipartisan cooperation in our national interest is — continues.

de Nies:    So it sounds to me like you’re not anticipating a fight?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't doubt that — I have turned on C-SPAN-2 sometime in the last 15 months; I understand you could probably quibble over renaming a post office on any given day in the United States Senate.  That's not to say at the end of the day there isn’t enough space and time to do this this year, and to demonstrate again for the American people that we have the ability to work together on things that make sense for our national interest.

The President reiterated today this is something that his Secretary of Defense was heavily involved in; that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were heavily involved in.  So I don't see why there wouldn't be an opportunity to redemonstrate bipartisanship.

MR. RHODES:  I would just add to that — and then Mike might speak to the Duma –

MR. McFAUL:  No, I want to talk about the treaty, a historical comparison.  (Laughter.) 

MR. RHODES:  What I want to say about the — why we feel like — again, this is going to be — this is in the tradition of strong bipartisan support for arms control.  We believe that this treaty does a range of things to advance America’s national security, from the cooperation with Russia, to the reduction in our deployed warheads and delivery vehicles and the benefits that that has as relates to broader non-proliferation nuclear security.  And we also have been consulting with the Senate throughout some of these negotiations.

Secretary Gates alluded to some of those consultations when he briefed that — the treaty when we announced the agreement, and he said, well, look, we took onboard, for instance, that there is great interest from some senators in missile defense.  And this treaty doesn’t place any constraints on the missile defense that we are developing in Europe, and so we feel very comfortable that on missile defense we can go to the Senate and say there are no constraints on missile defense in this treaty. 

As it relates to the stockpile — because any time you have reductions, very legitimately, people are interested in maintaining the reliability of the deterrent — we've made substantial investments in the infrastructure, the science and technology and human capital around our stockpile, in a manner that Secretary Gates also spoke to the other day, that really increases his confidence in actually maintaining a safe, effective, and reliable stockpile at lower numbers.

So we believe that on some of the key issues that will be of interest to people, as well as the broader and fundamental issue of the importance of this kind of arms control agreement and this cooperation that we're pursuing on non-proliferation in nuclear weapons with Russia, we believe that we have a very effective case to make that the treaty that was reached today is comprehensive, in our national interest, and in the global interest.

MR. McFAUL:  I'm not going to speak about the politics in either country, but I do want to say a little bit about the treaty, just compared to other treaties.  There have been other treaties that have been signed that were not completed, and therefore they had to be completed before they could go up to the Senate.  There have been other treaties where the balance of what’s in the treaty, the protocol, and the annexes fell more to the annexes. 

We had to make a decision whether we should sign the treaty and leave the protocol for later, and it was President Obama’s view is we're not going to do that because when we get to this moment we want to have everything lined up.  We did something historic today — it’s up, right, guys?  We did something historic today.  Usually you sign the treaty and it goes off in some box and then months — it goes to the senators and then you see it later.  You can all see it right now because the treaty and the protocol is done.  And if you were at the signing ceremony you saw them sign the treaty, and then you saw that big black thing and the red — that's the protocol.  We made a determination to finish that first.

There are some technical annexes, but we're — there are only three, and we're days from completing them.  So we're — and then the other thing I would say, different — two other things I'd say that's different from previous processes, we've had an interagency process in our government; at an intense period, we had two SVTSes a day with our negotiators in Geneva, with the full interagency there, including the intelligence community, where we were in sometime four hours of interaction.  So the knowledge about the treaty among all those in the government that need to know, that need to report on it, is already way beyond what it would have been for earlier treaties when that was not happening.

And then the last thing I would just mention is we have already begun to brief our colleagues on the Senate.  We've had Senator Lugar in; we've had Senator Kerry in twice now already — maybe, Robert, you want to say more about — including right now.

MR. GIBBS:  I would say that Denis and other members of the negotiating team are at the hotel right now briefing Senate staff over secure video teleconference on the specifics of what are in the treaty.  They’re having obviously, because it’s on the Internet, an opportunity to look through and ask questions of that.  I think it’s safe to say that we will spend a lot of time and our team will spend a lot of time meeting with individual senators and individual senators’ staffs over the next many months to make this happen.

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