Vice President Joe Biden said today that the failure to ratify the New START nuclear-arms treaty could derail Russian cooperation on issues ranging from the war in Afghanistan to containing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
“I am not suggesting that if START fails we’re back in a Cold War with Russia, but I am saying that the things in the margins that make a big difference right now might very well be different,” said Biden.
The vice president noted where Russia has been cooperative to U.S. concerns, including backing sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program and cooperation with U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. He acknowledged that if the U.S. Senate failed to pass the accord it would be a blow to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who has spent considerable political capital to get the treaty's approval from the Russia's parliament.
“From a geopolitical perspective as well as a bilateral perspective, it’s important that it gets passed,” Biden said.
In a 40-minute discussion with reporters and columnists at the White House, Biden discussed the stalemate with Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the GOP's point man on START—which stands for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
Kyl is insisting that a vote on START be delayed until the new Congress takes office in January. He's argued that questions about modernization of America's nuclear arsenal need to be debated at length and that the current lame duck session doesn't allow the time. The administration and the many supporters of the treaty have argued for the measure's speedy consideration, saying that these issues have been addressed ad nauseum.
Biden pulled back the curtain on some of the efforts that administration officials took to address Kyl’s concerns on weapons stockpiles and modernization efforts in the past few months. The vice president, who President Obama declared this week would lead the administration's efforts for START ratification, also pushed back against the assertion from some Republicans that the White House waited too long to get the treaty before the Senate.
The vice president noted that administration officials went to great lengths to assuage concerns from Kyl on the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and missile defense system.
Biden said the administration found $600 million in the 2011 budget to bolster America's nuclear arsenal, and allotted another $600 million in the 2012 budget proposal. Overall, the administration has committed to $4.1 billion in additional spending on modernizing the nuclear arsenal. Administration officials noted that they had visited with Kyl in Arizona as recently as this month is order to address his concerns.
“I don’t want to say Jon was conditioning, but it was an indirect condition if we weren’t serious about stockpile [that he wouldn’t support the pact],” Biden said.
Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he did not think his former colleague Kyl was blocking passage of the treaty for political reasons, but he suggested that it may be the motivation of some of the incoming Republican senators.
“The new guys that were elected—and this is not Jon Kyl’s position—[is] ‘We’re not going to give Barack Obama a win,” Biden said. “You kind of got to educate them that this is not a Democratic invention,” Biden said. “This is ... a policy that is the progeny of the Republicans.”
On another matter, Biden also spoke at length about Iraq’s eight-month-long effort to form a new government—something which is inching towards completion with the recent power sharing agreement by the nation's three major political blocs.
The Obama administration had mixed success as mediated between the parties vying to run a new Iraqi government. President Obama made a direct appeal to the Kurds to give the Iraq's presidency to the predominantly Sunni Iraqiya party lead by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Iraqiya finished first at the ballot box, but did not have the seats to form a government on its own.
Initially, the Kurds refused, but the three main factions—Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis—eventually came to an agreement earlier this fall.
Biden noted the myriad issues that still divide the parties in Baghdad, including drawing disputed territorial lines and oil sharing revenue. But he said that the prolonged power sharing talks may have made current talks somewhat smoother.
“They are so much further down the line as the consequence of having to work on these other things,” Biden said.