GOP Senators: Obama Nominee Words on Alleged Russian Treaty Breach ‘Misleading’

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A Russian policeman guards a Topol-M ICBM during a rehearsal for the nation's Victory Day parade in Moscow in May 2008. Some have speculated that Russia may have violated an arms treaty in testing the Topol-M weapon, but others point to a cruise missile instead.
National Journal
Sebastian Sprenger, Global Security Newswire
Sebastian Sprenger, Global Security Newswire
March 10, 2014, 10:51 a.m.

Two Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors charge they were misled by a seni­or Pentagon nom­in­ee over the hand­ling of a re­por­ted arms-treaty breach by Rus­sia.

Sen­at­ors Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Ro­ger Wick­er (R-Miss.) last week asked Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee lead­ers Carl Lev­in (D-Mich.) and James In­hofe (R-Okla.) to make a pan­el vote on the nom­in­a­tion of Bri­an McK­eon con­tin­gent on writ­ten, un­clas­si­fied re­sponses about the is­sue.

McK­eon, a deputy as­sist­ant to Present Obama and ex­ec­ut­ive sec­ret­ary of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil, is nom­in­ated to be­come the prin­cip­al deputy De­fense un­der sec­ret­ary for policy.

At is­sue is wheth­er the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­por­ted to the Sen­ate in­form­a­tion about a pos­sible vi­ol­a­tion by Mo­scow of the 1987 In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nuc­le­ar Forces Treaty, just as law­makers were de­bat­ing rat­i­fic­a­tion of the New START stra­tegic-arms con­trol pact in the fall of 2010.

Ayotte and Wick­er, in a March 6 let­ter to the com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat and Re­pub­lic­an, wrote that they found that in­form­a­tion provided by McK­eon at his Feb. 25 nom­in­a­tion hear­ing — and in writ­ten ma­ter­i­al sub­mit­ted in secret form — to have been “mis­lead­ing.” A sub­sequent, closed-door brief­ing by Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per con­trib­uted to their judg­ment, the sen­at­ors wrote.

“We do not come to this con­clu­sion lightly,” Ayotte and Wick­er wrote. “However, we are con­vinced — based on a thor­ough re­view of these ma­ter­i­als and oth­er doc­u­ments in the com­mit­tee’s cus­tody — that the ad­min­is­tra­tion did not in­form the Sen­ate, as was its ob­lig­a­tion, of a po­ten­tial ma­ter­i­al breach of one arms con­trol treaty while ask­ing for the rat­i­fic­a­tion of an­oth­er.”

The sen­at­ors’ let­ter de­scribes McK­eon as hav­ing been the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “lead co­ordin­at­or” for New START rat­i­fic­a­tion three years ago.

State De­part­ment spokes­wo­man Jen­nifer Psaki said in late Janu­ary that a U.S. in­ter­agency re­view pro­cess was un­der way to de­term­ine if the re­por­ted test­ing of a Rus­si­an ground-launched mis­sile ac­tu­ally con­sti­tuted an INF Treaty vi­ol­a­tion.

More re­cently, a seni­or Pentagon of­fi­cial said the Krem­lin had not re­solved is­sues that the U.S. gov­ern­ment brought up in dis­cus­sions.

“Our con­cerns have been raised with the Rus­si­ans. We’ve raised them a num­ber of times,” Elaine Bunn, the deputy as­sist­ant De­fense sec­ret­ary for nuc­le­ar and mis­sile de­fense policy, said at a March 5 hear­ing of the Sen­ate com­mit­tee’s stra­tegic forces pan­el. “We were not sat­is­fied with their re­sponse, and we’ll con­tin­ue to raise it.”

One of the ques­tions McK­eon should an­swer is wheth­er he be­lieves the United States should con­tin­ue to com­ply with the INF Treaty a year from now if Rus­sia does not, Ayotte and Wick­er wrote.

The Daily Beast re­por­ted in Novem­ber that top State and De­fense De­part­ment of­fi­cials told then-Sen­at­or John Kerry (D-Mass.), chair­man of the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, in Novem­ber 2012 about a pos­sible Rus­si­an treaty breach.

The INF Treaty bans the former Cold War su­per­powers from pos­sess­ing, de­vel­op­ing or test­ing any mis­sile with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.

It is not yet pub­licly known which Rus­si­an mis­sile or mis­siles may have in­tro­duced a prob­lem, though some in­ter­na­tion­al spec­u­la­tion re­volves around test flights of the RS-12M To­pol in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile. A March ana­lys­is by the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­ation raises the pos­sib­il­ity that the weapon in ques­tion was an R-500 Iskander-K cruise mis­sile.

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