Two of the Senate’s leading Republican voices on arms control said that the Obama administration has yet to demonstrate a serious commitment to modernizing the nation’s aging nuclear stockpile.

US-Senate-SealTwo of the Senate’s leading Republican voices on arms control said that the Obama administration has yet to demonstrate a serious commitment to modernizing the nation’s aging nuclear stockpile, a key consideration in determining whether they support the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.

During a roundtable with reporters, Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona and Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Corker of Tennessee laid out requirements the administration will need to meet to assuage their concerns about the treaty, known as New START (Treaty Doc 111-5).

To meet those demands, however, Democrats would likely have to delay the treaty vote — which has already hit one major snag this week — until after the November elections, when ratification prospects get dicier.

Kyl and Corker listed three requirements: funding in the fiscal 2011 appropriations legislation that meets or exceeds the president’s $624 million request for nuclear weapons modernization; a draft budget from the administration for fiscal 2012 that includes a significant increase in funding for modernization; and language in the resolution of ratification for the treaty that addresses what Corker calls “ambiguous statements” made either unilaterally or in the treaty.

Specifically, Republicans are concerned about Russian statements regarding missile defense and whether it will be limited by the treaty.

“That’s really doable,” said Corker, who also said he had not gotten much pushback from the administration.

Conversations are already under way concerning the ratification resolution language, he said. The funding components, however, are unlikely to be resolved by September, when Democrats hope to hold a vote on the agreement. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote to approve ratification of New START for it to go into effect, meaning that Democrats have to win over at least eight GOP votes along with the two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., announced Aug. 3 that he had decided to delay a committee vote on the treaty from Wednesday until mid-September to allow more time to address members’ questions.

“I never expected us to have a markup,” Corker said. “I think Sen. Kerry was really just trying to create a sense of ‘let’s move this along.’ I always thought it would be . . . in September, or may not even happen then.”

Both Kyl and Corker denied that they were intentionally trying to delay a vote on the treaty, which President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April. Rather, they said, their recent visits to the nation’s nuclear laboratories — including the Y12 National Security Complex at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico — reinforced “a strong sense of urgency,” as Kyl put it, to modernize the country’s aging nuclear arsenal and facilities.

“It was pretty alarming to see the state at which our arsenal is in,” said Corker, contending that “there really hasn’t been serious thought about modernization.”

“In order to express commitment, we’d like to see some details that show that [the administration has] actually thought through what modernization means,” he said.

That commitment is critical, Kyl said, given the level of reductions the new treaty will make in nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles. He acknowledged, however, that “we’re more likely to get attention to the needs of modernization” by linking it to the New START vote.

Both senators downplayed the administration’s 10-year, $80 billion funding plan for sustaining and modernizing the nuclear weapons complex. According to Kyl’s staff, the proposal, submitted to Congress in the spring, represents only a $10 billion increase to what was already planned funding to handle stockpile maintenance, among other requirements. Kyl and Corker suggested that a roughly $10 billion funding gap remains for planned overhauls of laboratory facilities at Y12 and Los Alamos in the coming decade.

They said they were concerned that the administration’s modernization funding plan does not have a dedicated funding stream. “What we’re saying is, ‘That’s not serious enough, folks,'” Kyl said.

Kyl also indicated that he was still holding out for access to records of the treaty negotiations, which the administration has resisted handing over. He said he had yet to see a single page from the records, and dismissed as insufficient a four-page summary provided by the administration.

Corker, however, expressed hope that the issues behind some Republicans’ desire to see the negotiating records — largely related to missile defense — could be addressed in the resolution language.

In addition to outlining their concerns, the senators’ comments provided additional detail on the full-court press the administration has launched as it seeks to nail down enough votes to ratify the treaty. Kyl said the administration has been actively trying to pick off Republicans, many of whom have reported back to him on their conversations.

Between the two, Corker and Kyl have in recent days met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as with treaty negotiators Rose E. Gottemoeller at the State Department and Edward L. Warner III at the Defense Department.

“The administration seems to want to commit — we’re trying to figure out what level of commitment — but I think they want to commit to modernization so that we know that it’s going to exist” down the road, Corker said. “I think the details of working through that is what is occurring appropriately at this moment.”

Source: Emily Cadei | CQ Staff
Photo: U.S. Senate