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Sen. Mark Kirk wooed by Obama White House on new START treaty

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WASHINGTON -- In office less than a week, Sen. Mark Kirk has been called by a variety of top Obama White House national security officials in a bid to win his vote for an arms control treaty with Russia known as New START.

Vice President Joseph Biden --who swore in Kirk Monday -- told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I hope, I hope the new senator will feel satisfied as the debate begins, God willing it begins, in talking to his colleagues who have been working on this a long time."

After Kirk won election in November, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called to congratulate him -- and "put in a good word on START and to offer a briefing," said Brian McKeon, Biden's national security adviser. This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper phoned Kirk. He also got a call from Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.


But it appears the undecided Kirk will be unsuccessful in his demand for the complete negotiating record of the treaty -- one of many pieces of information he has requested from the administration relating to the treaty and U.S.-Russian missile defense talks.

All senators have access to a seven-page classified summary of the negotiating record and a plethora of other materials on New START.

Kirk also wants classified briefings from the directors of the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories who have the job of maintaining nuclear stockpiles. That demand came before the directors on Tuesday said in a letter that newly promised higher funding levels means they could run a "safe, secure, reliable and effective stockpile."

No matter if the president is a Democrat or Republican, Biden said the negotiating records -- which could include some of the give-and- take and a bit of gamesmanship -- are not released not to keep things from senators but because it could be "misrepresented" if made public.

Kirk, a self-described "national security hawk," never had to deal with treaties as a five-term House member. He seems to pride himself on meticulous preparation before any vote. It's too early to tell how important a sticking point the negotiating record release may be with Kirk. The administration points out there is a mountain of material out there for senators on New START: 12 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, five Armed Services Committee hearings, a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing -- all in 2010, plus briefings for senators that occurred during treaty negotiations in 2009.

On top of that, Biden noted in the briefing with a small number of reporters on Friday, the administration already has answered some 1,000 questions from senators.

The wooing of Kirk comes as the Obama administration is pushing for a Senate ratification vote this year. It takes two-thirds of the Senate -- 67 senators -- to ratify a treaty, which means the Obama White House needs to win GOP support. So far, only one Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, is backing the treaty; Biden predicted the treaty would pass with up to 75 votes. But there is still work to do to get there.

"We have kicked up the public side of making the argument to the nation, but more importantly, to the Congress that this is badly needed and widely supported," Biden said. To that end, the Obama White House has been highlighting the backing the treaty has with Defense and State Department secretaries who served in Republican administrations, including Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Jim Baker.

"The senator has not gotten any response to the questions he has asked, nor has he been briefed," said Kirk spokesman Kate Dickens.

2 Comments

My understanding is that Congress usually does have access to the negotiating details of these treaties, yet this Administration is refusing to provide the details.

Kirk should not agree to the treaty unless Congress has the documents as done in past situations. A decision such as this should not be made without full information.

Dear Senator Kirk,

From what I'v read, I think voting yes on the START program would be very dngerous to our national security. You were elected to protect us & we trust you. Please discern this decision very carefully. Thank you for making a good choice in this matter.

Peace. Jan Maglio

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 6, 2010 11:44 AM.

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