Thursday, December 30, 2010

Companies With Permission to Bypass Sanctions

December 24, 2010

Over the last three presidential administrations, the United States government has granted nearly 10,000 special licenses allowing almost 4,000 American companies to enter into transactions that would otherwise be prohibited by trade embargoes and sanctions rules. Most of the licenses were issued under a broadly defined “humanitarian” exemption mandated by Congress that has allowed companies to do billions of dollars of business in countries that the United States has blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism including Iran, Sudan and Cuba

U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast

May 24, 2010

WASHINGTON — The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents.

The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.

While the Bush administration had approved some clandestine military activities far from designated war zones, the new order is intended to make such efforts more systematic and long term, officials said. Its goals are to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to “prepare the environment” for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. The order, however, does not appear to authorize offensive strikes in any specific countries.

In broadening its secret activities, the United States military has also sought in recent years to break its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies for information in countries without a significant American troop presence.

General Petraeus’s order is meant for small teams of American troops to fill intelligence gaps about terror organizations and other threats in the Middle East and beyond, especially emerging groups plotting attacks against the United States.

But some Pentagon officials worry that the expanded role carries risks. The authorized activities could strain relationships with friendly governments like Saudi Arabia or Yemen — which might allow the operations but be loath to acknowledge their cooperation — or incite the anger of hostile nations like Iran and Syria. Many in the military are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections afforded military detainees.

The precise operations that the directive authorizes are unclear, and what the military has done to follow through on the order is uncertain. The document, a copy of which was viewed by The New York Times, provides few details about continuing missions or intelligence-gathering operations.

Several government officials who described the impetus for the order would speak only on condition of anonymity because the document is classified. Spokesmen for the White House and the Pentagon declined to comment for this article. The Times, responding to concerns about troop safety raised by an official at United States Central Command, the military headquarters run by General Petraeus, withheld some details about how troops could be deployed in certain countries.

The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive. The Obama administration insists that for the moment, it is committed to penalizing Iran for its nuclear activities only with diplomatic and economic sanctions. Nevertheless, the Pentagon has to draw up detailed war plans to be prepared in advance, in the event that President Obama ever authorizes a strike.

“The Defense Department can’t be caught flat-footed,” said one Pentagon official with knowledge of General Petraeus’s order.

The directive, the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order, signed Sept. 30, may also have helped lay a foundation for the surge of American military activity in Yemen that began three months later.

Special Operations troops began working with Yemen’s military to try to dismantle Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of Osama bin Laden’s terror network based in Yemen. The Pentagon has also carried out missile strikes from Navy ships into suspected militant hideouts and plans to spend more than $155 million equipping Yemeni troops with armored vehicles, helicopters and small arms.

Officials said that many top commanders, General Petraeus among them, have advocated an expansive interpretation of the military’s role around the world, arguing that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.

The order, which an official said was drafted in close coordination with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command, calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished” by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.

While the C.I.A. and the Pentagon have often been at odds over expansion of clandestine military activity, most recently over intelligence gathering by Pentagon contractors in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there does not appear to have been a significant dispute over the September order.

A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to confirm the existence of General Petraeus’s order, but said that the spy agency and the Pentagon had a “close relationship” and generally coordinate operations in the field.

“There’s more than enough work to go around,” said the spokesman, Paul Gimigliano. “The real key is coordination. That typically works well, and if problems arise, they get settled.”

During the Bush administration, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld endorsed clandestine military operations, arguing that Special Operations troops could be as effective as traditional spies, if not more so.

Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council. Special Operations troops have already been sent into a number of countries to carry out reconnaissance missions, including operations to gather intelligence about airstrips and bridges.

Some of Mr. Rumsfeld’s initiatives were controversial, and met with resistance by some at the State Department and C.I.A. who saw the troops as a backdoor attempt by the Pentagon to assert influence outside of war zones. In 2004, one of the first groups sent overseas was pulled out of Paraguay after killing a pistol-waving robber who had attacked them as they stepped out of a taxi.

A Pentagon order that year gave the military authority for offensive strikes in more than a dozen countries, and Special Operations troops carried them out in Syria, Pakistan and Somalia.

In contrast, General Petraeus’s September order is focused on intelligence gathering — by American troops, foreign businesspeople, academics or others — to identify militants and provide “persistent situational awareness,” while forging ties to local indigenous groups.

Merkel Pays Visit to Afghanistan Troops

December 19, 2010

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Saturday amid growing differences inside her coalition government over when to begin withdrawing the 4,700 German troops serving in the country.

Guido Westerwelle, the foreign minister, told the German Parliament last week that troops would begin leaving toward the end of next year.

But Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the defense minister, and military commanders said over the weekend that they were reluctant to set a firm date. Josef Blotz, spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said it was unwise to think of theoretical and inflexible timetables.

“If, as a firefighter, you were fighting a blaze in a high-rise building, you would never say to yourself, ‘O.K. my shift finished at 7, whether it is still burning or not,” Mr. Blotz told the German news service dpa. “And even once you have put the fire out, you would station a guard at the site to make sure the flames do not rekindle.”

Mrs. Merkel’s visit — only her third since becoming chancellor five years ago even though Germany has the third-largest contingent of forces in Afghanistan after the U.S. and Britain — was different from her previous tours.

Because of the deteriorating security situation, Mrs. Merkel remained on the base in the northern province of Kunduz where most of the German troops are based. And she adopted a much more reflective tone.

“Until now, we only knew of stories like this from war books,” Mrs. Merkel said after attending a memorial to German soldiers killed in the conflict and then talked to troops.

“The reason why I’m here is to say ‘thank-you.’ We know what you are doing is an extremely dangerous undertaking,” Mrs. Merkel said.

Mrs. Merkel’s visit was overshadowed by the death of a 21-year-old German soldier from gunshot wounds just before her visit. The Defense Ministry in Berlin said it was unclear what had led to his death. In total, 45 German military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan.

During her short trip to Kunduz, Mrs. Merkel held talks with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. One of the main issues was how the Afghan government was tackling corruption. Mrs. Merkel, clearly dissatisfied with his answers, told reporters that Mr. Karzai had given her very few assurances on the issue.

German lawmakers have become increasingly critical over Mr. Karzai’s apparent failure on corruption, one of the main topics in a lengthy report issued last week by the government dealing with developments since it first sent troops to Afghanistan nine years ago.

The report cited corruption at a time when the public and lawmakers increasingly question why German troops serve there. This could influence the vote when lawmakers next month decide whether to extend the mandate and increase troops to more than 5,000.

Intelligence Reports Offer Dim View of Afghan War

December 14, 2010

WASHINGTON — As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports’ executive summaries.

American military commanders and senior Pentagon officials have already criticized the reports as out of date and say that the cut-off date for the Afghanistan report, Oct. 1, does not allow it to take into account what the military cites as tactical gains in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces in the south in the six weeks since. Pentagon and military officials also say the reports were written by desk-bound Washington analysts who have spent limited time, if any, in Afghanistan and have no feel for the war.

“They are not on the ground living it day in and day out like our forces are, so they don’t have the proximity and perspective,” said a senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified while criticizing the intelligence agencies. The official said that the 30,000 additional troops that Mr. Obama ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 did not all arrive until September, meaning that the intelligence agencies had little time to judge the effects of the escalation. There are now about 100,000 American forces in Afghanistan.

The dispute between the military and intelligence agencies reflects how much the debate in Washington over the war is now centered on whether the United States can succeed in Afghanistan without the cooperation of Pakistan, which despite years of American pressure has resisted routing militants on its border.

The dispute also reflects the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote “can do” optimism.

But in Afghanistan, the intelligence agencies play a strong role, with the largest Central Intelligence Agency station since the Vietnam War located in Kabul. C.I.A. operatives also command an Afghan paramilitary force in the thousands. In Pakistan, the C.I.A. is running a covert war using drone aircraft.

Both sides have found some areas of agreement in the period leading up to Mr. Obama’s review, which will be made public on Thursday. The intelligence reports, which rely heavily on assessments from the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency, conclude that C.I.A. drone strikes on leaders of Al Qaeda in the tribal regions of Pakistan have had an impact and that security has improved in the parts of Helmand and Kandahar Provinces in southern Afghanistan where the United States has built up its troop presence. For their part, American commanders and Pentagon officials say they do not yet know if the war can be won without more cooperation from Pakistan. But after years and billions spent trying to win the support of the Pakistanis, they are now proceeding on the assumption that there will be limited help from them. The American commanders and officials readily describe the havens for insurgents in Pakistan as a major impediment to military operations.

“I’m not going to make any bones about it, they’ve got sanctuaries and they go back and forth across the border,” Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan, told reporters last week in the remote Kunar Province of Afghanistan. “They’re financed better, they’re better trained, they’re the ones who bring in the higher-end I.E.D.’s.” General Campbell was referring to improvised explosive devices, the military’s name for the insurgent-made bombs, the leading cause of American military deaths in Afghanistan.

American commanders say their plan in the next few years is to kill large numbers of insurgents in the border region — the military refers to it as “degrading the Taliban” — and at the same time build up the Afghan National Army to the point that the Afghans can at least contain an insurgency still supported by Pakistan. (American officials say Pakistan supports the insurgents as a proxy force in Afghanistan, preparing for the day the Americans leave.)

“That is not the optimal solution, obviously,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who led a White House review of Afghan strategy last year that resulted in Mr. Obama sending the additional forces. “But we have to deal with the world we have, not the world we’d like. We can’t make Pakistan stop being naughty.”

Publicly, American officials and military commanders continue to praise Pakistan and its military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, if only for acknowledging the problem.

“General Kayani and others have been clear in recognizing that they need to do more for their security and indeed to carry out operations against those who threaten other countries’ security,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said last week.

But many Afghan officials say that the United States, which sends Pakistan about $2 billion in military and civilian aid each year, is coddling Pakistan for no end. “They are capitalizing on your immediate security needs, and they are stuck in this thinking that bad behavior brings cash,” said Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, in an interview on Tuesday.

The Pakistan intelligence report also reaffirms past American concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile, particularly the risk that enriched uranium or plutonium could be smuggled out of a laboratory or storage site.

The White House review comes as some members of Mr. Obama’s party are losing patience with the war. “You’re not going to get to the point where the Taliban are gone and the border is perfectly controlled,” said Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in an interview on Tuesday.

Mr. Smith said there would be increasing pressure from the political left on Mr. Obama to end the war, and he predicted that Democrats in Congress would resist continuing to spend $100 billion annually on Afghanistan.

“We’re not going to be hanging out over there fighting these guys like we’re fighting them now for 20 years,” Mr. Smith said.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Most in U.S. think Iran has nuke program

Dec. 29 (UPI)

While 70 percent of U.S. residents believe Iran has a nuclear weapons program, only 24 percent would use force to stop it, a poll released Wednesday indicates.

Angus Reid Public Opinion found a sharp partisan divide on the issue.

More than half, 56 percent of Democrats, favor sanctions and negotiations with Iran but a 40-percent plurality of Republicans prefer air strikes or invasion. Independents tilt toward the Democratic view with 52 percent favoring a non-violent approach and 19 percent military force.

Overall, 5 percent say Iran is no threat and the United States should do nothing.

Three-quarters of those surveyed have an unfavorable view of Iran, more than the 72 percent who dislike North Korea and the 69 percent who don't like Afghanistan.

Angus Reid, based in Toronto, polled 1,005 members of its Springboard America panel online Dec. 16-17. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

Britain forms plan for Gulf evacuation in event of war with Iran

Britain forms plan for Gulf evacuation in event of war with Iran
The British armed forces are drawing up contingency plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of British residents and tourists from Dubai and other Gulf cities in the event of war with Iran.

Daily Telegraph
By Richard Spencer,
28 Dec 2010

The Coalition government under David Cameron ordered an immediate review of British military planning in the Gulf after the election last May. The Daily Telegraph can reveal that new proposals are being drawn up to coordinate military activity in the region with local allies hostile to Iran, particularly the United Arab Emirates.

Planners have realised they had to tear up existing emergency plans for local British residents. Since the previous review in the 1990s, the expatriate population has grown to more than 100,000 in the UAE alone, while a million British tourists, from businessmen on stopovers to England footballers with marital problems, come to Dubai every year.

It is feared they might be at risk if, as it has promised, Iran retaliates for any military strikes on its nuclear sites with missile attacks on "western interests" in the Gulf.

Royal Navy warships, along with their American and French counterparts, regularly patrol the Gulf and tie up in UAE ports, while Iran has also threatened to mine the strategically crucial Straits of Hormuz.

The region's gearing up for the possibility of a war stands in contrast to the relaxing tourists on beaches or the opulent expat villa compounds.
In the last year, the United Nations, the US and Europe have all imposed heavy sanctions on Iran. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, was one of a number of regional Arab leaders revealed in Wikileaks cables to have been pressing for even tougher action. Diplomats say he has also been the key mover, along with William Hague, the foreign secretary, in demanding an upgrading of Britain's traditional military ties with its former colonial protectorates in the Gulf.

He has also personally raised the issue of the safety of the foreign population, which makes up 70 per cent of the UAE's 4.5 million residents.

The new military co-operation plan, whose full terms remain secret, will be signed off in the first half of 2011, when Mr Cameron is expected to visit. It is regarded as such a priority that it is being protected from defence cuts.

The plan is also expected to include an offer from Britain to help to keep vital infrastructure such as electricity and water desalination plants running in the event of war.

Meanwhile, proposals are being drawn up to organise evacuation runs for civilians across the border to Oman, which is not currently in Iran's sights, and other neighbouring countries.

Cruise liners may be posted in the Gulf of Aden, with Royal Navy warships shuttling civilians from the small emirate of Fujeirah, which lies outside the Straits of Hormuz. Depending on assessments of the safety of civilian flights, extra airfields in addition to the region's extensive network of international airports may be opened up.

Diplomats are keen to stress that embassies around the world are required to maintain contingency plans for British citizens facing all kinds of disasters and emergencies. In the Middle East, they usually entail recommending expatriates stay put and maintain a low profile – as, for example, during the Gulf War. "The physical requirements to move this many people means that we would try to delay evacuation as long as possible," said another Gulf-based diplomat.

But as Iran refuses to dismantle its nuclear programme, the potential for disaster is not being discounted. "It is a huge number of people who are affected here," the source said. "There are over 100,000 Brits who live here, one million Brits who visit every year. Their safety is a matter of particular concern."

Moshe Ya'alon Deputy PM: West has three years to stop Iran nuclear program

Published 29.12.10

Moshe Ya'alon says Iran remains the government's biggest worry, hopes for success of U.S.-led actions against Teheran.

The United States and its allies have up to three years to curb Iran's nuclear program, which has been set back by technical difficulties and sanctions, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Wednesday.

Saying Iran remained the government's biggest worry, Yaalon did not mention possible unilateral military strikes by Israel, saying he hoped U.S.-led action against Tehran would be successful.

"I believe that this effort will grow, and will include areas beyond sanctions, to convince the Iranian regime that, effectively, it must choose between continuing to seek nuclear capability and surviving," Ya'alon told Israel Radio. "I don't know if it will happen in 2011 or in 2012, but we are talking in terms of the next three years."

Ya'alon, a former armed forces chief, noted Iran's uranium enrichment plan had suffered setbacks. Some analysts have seen signs of foreign sabotage in incidents such as the corruption of Iranian computer networks by a virus.

"These difficulties postpone the timeline, of course. Thus we cannot talk about a 'point of no return'. Iran does not currently have the ability to make a nuclear bomb on its own," Ya'alon said. "I hope it won't succeed at all and that the Western world's effort will ultimately deny Iran a nuclear capability."

Ya'alon had previously been hawkish on Iran, saying Israel, believed to have region's only nuclear arsenal, should attack Iran rather than see it get the bomb.

Other officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been tight-lipped about the military option, which would face big tactical and diplomatic hurdles.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday Iran will retain its right to pursue nuclear technology.

Speaking about next month's planned nuclear talks with world powers in Istanbul, Ahmadinejad said "We are willing to cooperate with [them] in Istanbul, but all of them should acknowledge Iran's right to pursue nuclear technology and know that we will not retreat on inch from these rights."

The six world powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - demand that Iran suspend its controversial uranium enrichment, in line with five United Nations Security Council resolutions, four of them with sanctions, designed to make sure the Islamic state is not pursuing a secret military program.

While denying the existence of military nuclear programs, Tehran has referenced its right as a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory and International Atomic Energy Agency member, saying, like any other country, it has the right to have civil nuclear projects, including uranium enrichment.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

US must rethink its policy on Iran

Sanctions should be an element of diplomacy, not a substitute for it

By Christopher Hill, Special to Gulf News, Project Syndicate, 2010
December 27, 2010

Throughout 2010, the pattern for negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme held to form. Diplomatic efforts focused on sanctions — and on what mix of them would be needed to bring Iran to heal. With just about every diplomatic approach having failed, a renewed focus on economic sanctions could turn out to be a bad idea whose time comes around again in 2011.

But sanctions, of course, have a dismal record in achieving their aims. So it might be useful to step back and take a hard look at our disagreeable negotiating partner — Iran — to see what should, and should not, be emphasised diplomatically.

There is nothing easy about negotiating with Iran. It is one of the oldest states in the broader Middle East. It has a deep culture. Despite its leaders' grim public image, Iran has a sense of humanism, as any Kurd who fled from Saddam Hussain's chemical warfare attacks along the Iranian border can attest. Bending, much less breaking, will not come naturally to such a country.

Iran also doesn't "play well with others." Most Americans remember it as the country that kidnapped US diplomats soon after its Islamic revolution in 1979, holding them for no apparent purpose for 444 days. No American diplomat has been stationed there since. American attitudes toward Iran are probably far more conditioned by that episode than people realise.

Iran is also divided. Its clerics bicker constantly, seeming to reflect the country's broader divisions. Iran's civilian authorities seem to have limited control over the military and the dreaded security services, which seem to answer to no one else but themselves.

Iran's Islamic Revolution, moreover, has run into a familiar contradiction: it cannot further its aims without accepting Westernisation and modernisation. Iran's youthful population — a product of the massive post-revolution baby boom — is increasingly frustrated and depressed; not surprisingly, young Iranians are having fewer children than ever. As the June 2009 election protests showed, Iran's urban youth desperately want to end the country's isolation, but they have increasingly found that the only way out of isolation is to study or work abroad — and never come back.

Iran does not live in a great neighbourhood, either. Turkey can be a good neighbour, but otherwise Iran is bordered by inhospitable states to the east and the north.

Iran has virtually no friends among the Arab states. As the world recently learned from the WikiLeaks release of US diplomatic cables, Arab leaders are no more tolerant of an Iranian nuclear bomb than is the US or its allies. Iran's only friends, it seems, are those — like the Chinese — who are more interested in its natural resources than its people.

While sanctions may deepen Iran's predicament, they are unlikely to break the diplomatic impasse on nuclear weapons. But, given the Iranian government's increasingly unhelpful reactions to diplomatic overtures, there is unlikely to be any interest in toning down sanctions. Indeed, just the opposite response is likely — efforts to tighten sanctions still further.

Yet, just as the US adopted a "bomb and talk" approach with the Serbs during the denouement of the Bosnian war, America must be willing to "sanction and talk" when it comes to Iran, thereby creating greater space for an eventual diplomatic strategy.

First, the US should consider establishing diplomatic relations with Iran and putting diplomats on the ground. This would not be an easy process, and could well meet considerable Iranian resistance. But the Iranians have diplomatic relations with other members of its main interlocutor in talks on its nuclear programme, the sanctions-minded P-5+1 Group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the US), and restoring Iran-US diplomatic ties would shorten lines of communications and close the 444-day chapter of 1979-1981.

Second, even if a stronger bilateral mechanism is forged, it should not be allowed to displace the P-5 approach. The ability of this group to work together is critical to resolving this and future crises.

Action by neighbours

Third, the US should continue its efforts to encourage action by Iran's neighbours. While Turkey's lurch into the fray in 2010 may have been unwelcome, its interest in calming a situation involving an immediate neighbour is understandable. More problematically, the neighbouring states should also give more serious thought to addressing the situation, and should seek to reconcile their private and public postures.

Iran, after all, is not building an Islamic bomb. It is building an Iranian bomb that Arab leaders must take seriously. Private expressions of deep concern do not compensate for public nonchalance, and are hardly a basis for a successful policy toward a country whose nuclear ambitions could have a catastrophic impact on the region.

Finally, the Chinese and the Russians have been brought along principally by the US to a more robust policy, yet they remain reluctant. They need to convey through their own bilateral approaches to Iran a sense of urgency — and perhaps even express a little anger — at Iran's unwillingness to negotiate seriously.

Sanctions should be an element of diplomacy, not a substitute for it. Even as we look to tighten sanctions on Iran in 2011, we must strengthen our efforts to establish a strong political and diplomatic track.

— Christopher Hill is former US Ambassador to Iraq

Monday, December 27, 2010

U.N. Maps Out Afghan Security

The Wall Street Journal

DECEMBER 26, 2010


Internal United Nations maps show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year's fighting season, countering the Obama administration's optimistic assessments of military progress since the surge of additional American forces began a year ago.

The Wall Street Journal was able to view two confidential "residual risk accessibility" maps, one compiled by the U.N. at the annual fighting season's start in March 2010 and another at its tail end in October. The maps, used by U.N. personnel to gauge the dangers of travel and running programs, divide the country's districts into four categories: very high risk, high risk, medium risk and low risk.
Hostile Territory

In the October map, just as in March's, virtually all of southern Afghanistan—the focus of the coalition's military offensives—remained painted the red of "very high risk," with no noted security improvements. At the same time, the green belt of "low risk" districts in northern, central and western Afghanistan shriveled considerably.

The U.N.'s October map upgraded to "high risk" 16 previously more secure districts in Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Balkh, Parwan, Baghlan, Samangan, Faryab, Laghman and Takhar provinces; only two previously "high risk" districts, one in Kunduz and one in Herat province, received a safer rating.

A Pentagon report mandated by Congress drew similar conclusions when it was released last month. It said attacks were up 70% since 2009 and threefold since 2007. As a result of the continued violence, the Taliban still threaten the Afghan government, according to the report. The White House's National Security Council declined to comment.

The director of communications for the U.N. in Afghanistan, Kieran Dwyer, said he couldn't comment on classified maps. But, he said, "in the course of 2010, the security situation in many parts of the country has become unstable where it previously had not been so. There is violence happening in more parts of the country, and this is making the delivery of humanitarian services more difficult for the U.N. and other organizations. But we are continuing to deliver."
Regional Violence

U.S.-led coalition forces operate in Afghanistan under a U.N. Security Council mandate, and the U.N. works hand-in-hand with the coalition on building up Afghan government institutions. The Taliban have repeatedly attacked U.N. buildings and personnel, labeling the U.N. an instrument of American imperialism.

A senior coalition official, asked whether security in Afghanistan has deteriorated this year, said that coalition forces "have taken the offensive and are making deliberate and steady progress, though progress right now is still fragile and reversible."

He highlighted advances in Kandahar, Helmand and around Kabul, and said that a new program to raise local police forces "will reduce the insurgents' ability to intimidate the population" in areas where regular troop density isn't sufficient to maintain security.

The assessments of the U.N. accessibility maps, based on factors such as insurgent activity, political stability, coalition operations and community acceptance, contrast with President Barack Obama's recent statements that hail the coalition's progress in the war.

"Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future," Mr. Obama told American troops during a visit to the Bagram Air Field northeast of Kabul earlier this month.

Most of the 30,000 U.S. surge troops deployed this year were sent to the Taliban heartland in the southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where they have been able to capture key insurgent strongholds. Though no longer under uncontested Taliban control, most of these areas remain a war zone, with frequent ambushes, shootings and bombings.

As the coalition focused on the south, the insurgents fanned out during the year to the north and the west. In recent months, the Taliban seized control in areas of dozens of districts in those previously secure parts of the country, taking advantage of the sparse international troop presence there.

Many nongovernment organizations, or NGOs, operating in Afghanistan dispute that any progress has been made by the coalition this year. According to preliminary statistics compiled by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, which provides security advice and coordination to NGOs working in the country, the number of insurgent-initiated attacks surged by some 66% in 2010 from the previous year.

"The country as a whole is dramatically worse off than a year ago, both in terms of the insurgency's geographical spread and its rate of attacks," said Nic Lee, director of the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office. "Vast amounts of the country remain insecure for the unarmed civilians, and more and more areas are becoming inaccessible."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Arms Talks Now Turn to Short-Range Weapons

New York Times
Published: December 24, 2010

Fresh from winning Senate approval for a new strategic arms treaty, President Obama plans to return to the negotiating table with Russia next year in hopes of securing the first legal limits ever imposed on the smaller, battlefield nuclear weapons viewed as most vulnerable to theft or diversion.
This time around, though, Mr. Obama may have an easier time with the Senate Republicans who tried to block ratification of the new treaty, known as New Start, than he will with the Russians who were his partners in writing it.

As part of their case against the treaty, Senate Republicans complained vociferously that it did not cover tactical nuclear weapons, short-range bombs that have never been addressed by a Russian-American treaty. To press their point, Republicans pushed through a side resolution calling on Mr. Obama to open new talks with Russia on such weapons within a year.

That was always Mr. Obama’s long-stated plan for following up New Start, so now he has the added advantage of a virtual Republican mandate to negotiate a new arms limitation agreement with Russia. The challenge next time will actually be Russia, which has many more of these tactical bombs deployed in Europe than the United States does, and in its strategic doctrine deems them critical to defending against a potential conventional attack by NATO or China.

“The good news is, with Senate approval of New Start, the administration achieved the essential precondition to getting Russia to consider reductions in tactical nuclear forces,” said Stephen Young, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an arms control advocacy group. “The Russians, however, will try to insist on limitations on U.S. missile defense, which is something the administration is both not inclined to do and couldn’t get through the Senate if it did.”

The White House said after the Senate voted 71-to-26 on Wednesday to approve New Start that it would move forward on tactical weapons. “We will carry out the requirements of the resolution by seeking to initiate negotiations with Russia on tactical nukes within one year of New Start’s entry into force,” said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman.

Mr. Vietor said the administration was seeking to enlist Russia in collaborating with the United States and NATO on a European missile defense system rather than trying to obstruct it. “We have a robust schedule of consultations on missile defense cooperation with Russia planned for the early part of the new year,” he said.

The new arms control treaty, like its predecessors, placed limits on strategic nuclear weapons, meaning those that can be delivered long distances, but not on shorter-range bombs. Tactical weapons generally refer to those with ranges of 300 or 400 miles or less — some quite small and therefore particularly worrisome to officials responsible for guarding against terrorists obtaining such destructive weapons.

In 1991, as the cold war was coming to an end and the Soviet Union was near collapse, the first President George Bush announced that he would unilaterally withdraw most tactical nuclear weapons from forward positions. President Mikhail S. Gorbachev of the Soviet Union then reciprocated. Experts estimate that thousands of tactical bombs were withdrawn or eliminated.

Today, the United States retains about 500 tactical weapons, according to the figures released this year, and experts say about 180 of them are still stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Russia has between 3,000 and 5,000 of them, depending on the estimate, and American officials have said Moscow moved more of them closer to NATO allies as recently as last spring in response to the deployment of American missile defense installations closer to its territory.

“In the 21st century, there is no plausible military, political or deterrent justification for the Russian government to deploy several thousand such weapons,” said Frank Miller, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush and now now at the Scowcroft Group in Washington.

The imbalance animated Republican opponents of the New Start treaty during the Senate debate. “Remember, the Russians have a 10-to-1 ratio of tactical nuclear weapons over us — 3,000 to 300 — not talked about in this treaty, an important issue,” said Senator George LeMieux, Republican of Florida, who inserted the provision calling for new talks in the resolution of ratification accompanying the treaty.

But other experts warned that it would be hard to persuade Russia to give up its advantage without getting something in return. If not a concession on missile defense, these experts said Russia would certainly want to talk about paring back the large stockpiles of stored strategic weapons that are also not covered by the New Start treaty.

In that category of weapons, the United States has the advantage. It reported having about 2,600 strategic warheads in reserve, while experts estimate that Russia has 1,000. At least some of the weapons to be removed as a result of New Start would simply go into storage.

Steven Pifer, a former arms control official at the State Department, said one way to devise a deal would be to negotiate an overall cap on all nuclear weapons of perhaps 2,500 each. Then both sides would have to reduce the weapons they have the most of, but precise parity in each category would not be required.

Mr. Pifer said any agreement would test whether Republicans were serious when they criticized New Start for neglecting tactical weapons. “Will they support it, or will it turn out the lack of limits on tactical nukes was merely a pretext for saying no to New Start?” he asked.

Baker Spring, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation and a critic of New Start, said it would be better not to get into a new round of talks. “The imbalance in tactical nuclear weapons is very worrisome,” he said, “but I do not think the U.S. should enter into negotiations on these weapons, because it has no cards to play.”

In the end, Mr. Spring said, Russia would probably force each side to withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons to its own national territory in exchange for any reductions. Russia, and its weapons, would still be near NATO allies, while the United States would have to withdraw its small force from Europe. “What’s not for Russia to like?” he said.

Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative research group, said that an American withdrawal from Europe would probably cost Mr. Obama any Republican support. “Such a move by the Obama administration would not enhance their credibility with Senate Republicans, given the common perception that the Russians got the better of us on several key issues during the New Start negotiations,” he said.

Obama's foreign policy spine

Washington Post
By David Ignatius
Sunday, December 26, 2010;

For a world that feared (and in some cases, cheered) the prospect of American decline, this holiday season has been bracing. It showed that despite U.S. political and economic difficulties, President Obama is still able to rally support at home and abroad for a strong foreign policy.

Obama's Christmas-week legislative successes capped a two-month period in which his foreign policy team strengthened key alliances, from East Asia to NATO. After Obama's humbling in the November elections, world leaders were talking in stage whispers about the erosion of American power, and of Obama as a weak and inattentive president. Those worries haven't disappeared, but they are allayed by his recent successes.

The foreign policy challenges of the past two months were also the first test of the new national security adviser, Tom Donilon. True to his reputation as a political "Mr. Fix-It," he was low-key, to the point of near-invisibility - and he'll need to present a stronger public face to succeed in that job. But he ran a smooth and seamless policy process, without the competing voices that have sometimes been heard over the past two years.

Donilon's advantage, it appears, is that he is master of the house at the National Security Council. His predecessor, Gen. Jim Jones, also tried to run an orderly process, but he had to look over his shoulder at Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff who operated in a sort of prime ministerial role. Emanuel often used Donilon (who was Jones's deputy) as his personal foreign policy operative, which confused lines of responsibility.

"What we have now is a tightly aligned, single process for foreign policy," a senior White House official said when asked what difference the departures of Emanuel and Jones had made.

What has been notable about the recent foreign policy moves is that they have allowed Obama to show some backbone, a quality that Europeans, in particular, feared was missing. This firmness has been especially evident in contingency plans for North Korea.

The White House cites eight specific foreign policy gains over the past two months. The list begins with the president's trip to India in November, when he was still reeling from the Democrats' midterm defeat. That cast an aura of failure over the trip, but in retrospect it looks a bit more positive: In New Delhi, Obama managed to strengthen ties with India without upsetting Pakistan, a neat trick.

Next came South Korea. Although Obama was drubbed for not getting a free-trade deal before his arrival, his refusal to make last-minute concessions to Seoul made the final deal reached in December much better, and won it bipartisan support. It's arguably the most important free-trade pact since NAFTA.

A third success was the Lisbon summit in late November. This was the crowning diplomatic achievement of the late Richard Holbrooke, who managed to coax NATO to support a 2014 timetable for transition in Afghanistan. This bolstered the allies and helped fuzz Obama's July 2011 date for beginning withdrawal, which was perhaps his biggest foreign policy blunder - undercutting his troop surge even as he announced it a year ago.

The December Af-Pak review, the fourth item on the list, followed on the Lisbon frame. Obama's achievement here was to avoid a potential political land mine. A White House aide had explained that the president's goal was "fine-tuning, not changing the channel." He bought some time with a bland status-quo document that spoke of progress but called it "fragile and reversible."

Then came the three big theatrical events in December: the formation of an Iraqi government; the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell"; and ratification of the New START treaty with Russia. In all three, Obama succeeded by working closely with his diplomatic and military advisers, especially Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Finally, and least noticed, was the test with North Korea. While saying little in public, the administration mobilized for the possibility of war if North Korea continued its provocations. Obama cautioned Chinese President Hu Jintao in a phone call three weeks ago that because North Korea is a nuclear nation, its recklessness threatens the United States. The White House thinks the Chinese got the message - and warned Pyongyang.

Sadly, the president's biggest disaster was with his signature issue, Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama was undone partly by his growing political weakness. I suspect that a stronger but still quixotic Obama will remount that horse next year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

General Petraeus's Surge Map

Where the U.S. military has gone in robustly—with the Marines in Marjah and Nawa, and the Army west of Kandahar—the Taliban have folded.

* DECEMBER 22, 2010

It's an American pathology. In just about every military mission since Vietnam, we've rushed to declare premature defeat. Now, one year into the Afghan surge, Congress, members of the foreign policy establishment and Joe Biden want a speedy drawdown of forces by this summer. Pulling the plug early could make the fantasy of failure real.

In its policy review last week, the White House called recent progress in Afghanistan "fragile and reversible." It's a phrase that Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has used for years, including when he oversaw the successful U.S. surge in Iraq.

Speak to him now at his Kabul headquarters, and he points you to a series of maps. Blots of dark red signify Taliban control, yellow shows contested areas, and green plots are now in his hands. The slides tell a story of counterinsurgency ("COIN," in milspeak) in action.

Where the military went in robustly—with the Marines in Marjah and Nawa, or the Army west of Kandahar in the south—the Taliban folded. By tripling the number of troops to nearly 100,000, the Americans are able to hold areas they had cleared. The enemy red patches shrink.

Gen. Petraeus's Iraq treatment can't be replicated in full because the countries are so different. The violence there was far worse than in Afghanistan, yet once the surge pacified the cities other pieces fell quickly into place. Iraq had a large security force ready to step in behind the departing Americans. It had great oil wealth, an educated middle class and longstanding state institutions.

Afghanistan has none of that. "You don't have such big levers here," Gen. Petraeus says. "The challenge is you're not going to see the big flip."

He's right to dampen expectations. Obviously the Taliban is no match for the world's best fighting force, and the more than $100 billion that the U.S. has spent this year will have an impact on the ground. But America will be building on a bed of sand as long as the Afghan state specializes in corruption and poppy cultivation, and Pakistan provides sanctuary to the Taliban.

Yet since 2001 the U.S. has tried many alternatives, including a "light-footprint" approach and a focus on hunting terrorists as opposed to protecting the Afghan people. These failed. By 2008, the Taliban were back and had virtually encircled Kabul.
The surge is a wager that we can make Afghanistan a less violent and more stable base for America. Look at a globe. To the east in Pakistan lies the ground zero of global jihad. To the west is Iran, another leading sponsor of terror, which aspires to Islamic nuclear superpowerdom. We live in the 9/11 world, and this is the front line.

America's forces aren't leaving, probably not in this lifetime. They certainly won't be "totally out of there" by 2014, as Mr. Biden suggested the other day.

It takes guts to imagine Afghanistan as a place where extremists have no sanctuary and from which America can focus on broader challenges. But the U.S. attempt has already yielded some benefits.

Not since 2001, when the Taliban fell and Osama bin Laden scattered, has the U.S. inflicted so much pain on the Islamist offshoots in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past year the U.S. has ramped up night raids on Taliban hideouts along the lone highway that circles Afghanistan. In a rural insurgency, whoever controls the roads gains the upper hand.

CIA drone strikes on safe havens in western Pakistan are reaching their height this winter. Even better would be U.S. raids into Pakistan's tribal region so the leaders could be captured and interrogated. Militants are less useful dead. That's what special forces leaders are calling for. But the State Department, fearing backlash from Pakistan, so far has won the argument that the military should hold back.

The U.S. surge also changed attitudes in Pakistan. Islamabad has now deployed some 150,000 troops—up from 30,000 a year and a half ago—into the tribal regions used by the Islamist insurgents. American forces run joint missions with them. Pakistan isn't a reliable partner, but count this as progress.

The Afghan government's shortcomings feed the insurgency. President Hamid Karzai squandered nine years. But the Taliban are hated. Only a tenth of Afghans tell pollsters they prefer them, and their sympathy is often as much practical as ideological. Afghans want the state to protect and serve them. In the many places it fails, the Taliban steps into the gap.

"This is the longest campaign in the long war," Gen. Petraeus likes to say. But unlike in Iraq, he doesn't have a blank check from Congress, and he doesn't have much time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

After Bruising Session, Congress Faces New Battles

December 22, 2010

WASHINGTON — The 111th Congress ended as it began two years ago, with a burst of legislative productivity, as Democrats forced through a historic social change by lifting the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military and a major foreign policy achievement in approving the New Start arms control treaty with Russia.

Along the way, they enacted a landmark health care law and a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street rules, bookended by a $787 billion economic stimulus package at the start of 2009 and an $858 billion tax-cut package at the end of 2010.

It was a dizzying, maddening, agonizing, exhilarating, arduous, bruising and, for scores of Democrats, ultimately career-ending journey from the stimulus to Start — and the party paid a devastating price for its accomplishments, losing control of the House and six Senate seats.

It is a period that will no doubt be pored over by historians for years.

But it is already clear that much of the next two years will be spent fighting over what was done in the past two.

“They have been enormously successful in one sense in passing their legislative agenda,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said of Democrats. “The problem is the country just doesn’t like it very much.”

The Democrats’ biggest victories were secured on party-line or near-party-line votes, and some lawmakers predicted partisan animosity would spill over into the 112th Congress, raising a question of whether it would be characterized by deal-making or deadlock.

As many Democrats cast their last votes on Wednesday, top lawmakers said that most of them considered their defeat well worth the price considering the legislative victories they wrote into the history books, accomplishments that have prompted comparisons to the progressive glory days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

“Almost every member who lost, without fail, has said, ‘I am proud of the work,’ ” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader. “They say, ‘If it cost me my election, I can point to the fact that I was a member of the productive Congress that did health care, did credit cards, did student loan reform, just go through the entire list.’ ”

Democrats also disputed that the election results were a repudiation of their agenda and pointed instead at the hard times many Americans are suffering through. “The economy has been awful all over the country,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader. “The economy is the reason you had the uproar from the Tea Party. That’s all it was.”

At a news conference on Wednesday, just as the House and Senate were wrapping up, President Obama — the catalyst for much of what happened, substantively and politically — called the 111th Congress the most productive in generations and said the postelection legislative blitz proved that the two parties could work together.

“If there’s any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it’s that we are not doomed to endless gridlock,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together.”

The ability of Congressional Democrats, in concert with Mr. Obama, to push through a string of major initiatives in some sense conflicted with the notion that Congress is broken and dysfunctional.

But the advent of divided government next month will test the ability of Congress anew. Even Democrats happy with the outcome of the past two years say the process was often ugly and allowed Republicans to cast much of the legislation as flawed.

Measures that have almost become afterthoughts — pay equity for women and the new power of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco, for instance — could have been signature achievements in other Congresses. And the Senate confirmed two of Mr. Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court — both women, one Hispanic.

“You’re president of the United States and you get two women on the Supreme Court? Bang, bang,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington. “That’s historic.”

But the fights over the stimulus, health care, financial regulation and, most recently, tax policy, dominated the landscape and obscured how Congress failed in other respects.

Because of the time those fights consumed — and the eagerness of lawmakers to avoid tough votes in a charged partisan atmosphere — the Congressional spending and budget process completely collapsed this year for the first time in a quarter-century and Congress did not fulfill its most basic responsibility, allocating money to federal agencies.

That lapse sets up a spending fight early in the next Congress over financing the government for the remainder of the fiscal year while House Republicans try to carry out their plan to cut $100 billion in domestic spending.

Returning for the lame-duck, Democrats put an exclamation point on the session, squeezing through a raft of priorities despite concerted Republican resistance, particularly in the Senate where Democrats were forced to thread the procedural needle time after time.

Republican leaders discovered that the power of the minority only extended so far if Democrats were tenacious and were able — as with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Start treaty — to lure decisive numbers of Republicans away from the leadership’s opposition.

Many Republicans complained bitterly in recent days that Democrats were ignoring their rejection in the election and abusing their last weeks of Congressional control to jam through a final flurry of expensive, intrusive programs. And they said efforts by Democrats to score political points by forcing a vote on an immigration measure they knew would fail had angered Republicans and diminished their interest in a major immigration overhaul in the next Congress.

“I think it has hurt,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

Republicans did score some some victories of their own in the final days. The compromise that extended Bush-era tax cuts even on the highest incomes and provided a generous exemption for the estates of affluent families was embraced by wide Republican majorities. And they managed to derail a giant $1.2 trillion spending plan that was stuffed with tens of millions of dollars of pet spending projects, delaying crucial spending decisions until early next year when they will run the House and have more clout in the Senate.

At the same time, House and Senate Republicans have pledged to work to repeal the health care law and deny financing for other newly passed initiatives, like the tighter financial regulation.

But Republicans also say the new dynamic on Capitol Hill will put them in a much stronger position to take the offensive and challenge Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats by initiating conservative bills in the House and pushing for Senate floor votes. Even if they fail on some bills, Republicans say, they will make the case to expand their control from the House to the Senate and the White House in 2012.

“The big part is showing America what we stand for,” said Senator Jim DeMint, the conservative South Carolina Republican.

Even as he celebrated the successes, Mr. Obama acknowledged the obstacles ahead. “I’m not naïve,” he said. “I know there will be tough fights.”

Obama Gamble Pays Off With Approval of Arms Pact

The New York Times

December 22, 2010

WASHINGTON — The final approval of a new arms control treaty with Russia may have been a foregone conclusion by the time senators stepped onto the floor on Wednesday. But that was not the way it looked one afternoon last month when White House officials rushed to the Oval Office to tell President Obama that his treaty might be dead.

The president and his team had built their entire strategy for obtaining approval of the treaty on winning over a single Republican senator deputized by his caucus to negotiate an accord — and that Republican, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, had just shocked the White House by pulling the plug on a deal for the year.

Some aides counseled Mr. Obama to stand down. Losing a treaty vote, as one put it, would be “a huge loss.” But Mr. Obama decided that afternoon to make one of the biggest gambles of his presidency and demand that the Senate approve the treaty by the year’s end. “We’ve just got to go ahead,” he told aides, who recounted the conversation on Wednesday.

Along the way, he had to confront his own reluctant party leadership and circumvent the other party’s leadership. He mounted a five-week campaign that married public pressure and private suasion. He enlisted the likes of Henry A. Kissinger, asked Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to help and sent a team of officials to set up a war room of sorts on Capitol Hill. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had at least 50 meetings or phone calls with senators.

When a wavering Republican senator told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the president needed to address concerns about missile defense, the senator quickly received a letter from Mr. Obama reaffirming his commitment to develop the system.

Other senators who were worried about the condition of the nation’s nuclear stockpile received a letter from the president vowing to stick by a 10-year, $85 billion modernization plan.

Even in the final 10 days, the effort appeared in danger of collapsing. The insistence of Democrats on passing unrelated legislation allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military upset the Republican conference and may have cost the White House five or more votes on the arms treaty. Administration officials worried last week that they did not have the required two-thirds majority in the Senate, and as late as Sunday, the president’s aides wondered whether to call off the vote.

In the end, the gamble paid off on Wednesday with a 71-to-26 vote in the Senate to approve the treaty, called New Start, with Russia, culminating what turned out to be the biggest battle over arms control in Washington in more than a decade.

No Russian-American arms treaty submitted for a Senate vote ever squeaked through by a smaller margin. But for a president seeking his way after a crushing midterm election, it was welcome validation that he could still win a battle.

“The president made a gutsy decision that he was willing to lose it, and that was a gutsy decision,” said Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who was Mr. Obama’s chief ally in the Senate. “Everybody said it wasn’t going to happen. Even colleagues on our side said it wasn’t going to happen.”

The treaty took on such importance to Mr. Obama because he had invested so much in it.

While it will not reduce nuclear weapons as much as previous treaties have, he has made it the centerpiece of his foreign policy — “the Jenga piece,” as one aide puts it, critical to a variety of priorities, including a better relationship with Russia, international solidarity against Iran’s uranium enrichment program and the president’s larger vision of eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

The challenge of Senate approval always played into the administration’s thinking, even while the treaty was being negotiated with the Russians. At several pivotal moments, American officials like Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Under Secretary of State Ellen O. Tauscher; Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller; and Michael McFaul, the president’s Russia adviser, used the need to win Senate approval to leverage Russian negotiators into making concessions.

Even before Mr. Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia signed the treaty in April, the administration had tried to woo Mr. Kyl, the No. 2 Republican and his party’s leading conservative voice on arms control. The White House strategy was to meet Mr. Kyl’s concerns on modernizing the nuclear complex, knowing that if he embraced the treaty, it would sail to approval.

Mr. Obama was coming under pressure from multiple sides as the end of the year neared. During a meeting in Japan in mid-November, Mr. Medvedev pressed Mr. Obama on the treaty. “Are you going to get Start done?” the Russian president asked, according to an administration official, who like others interviewed insisted on anonymity to share private moments.

Soon after Mr. Obama returned, his negotiations with Mr. Kyl suddenly disintegrated. On Nov. 16, the senator issued a statement saying he did not think there was enough time to deal with the issues surrounding New Start before the end of the year. That would mean waiting until the new Senate took office with five more Republicans.

White House officials learned about Mr. Kyl’s statement shortly after noon when a reporter sent it by e-mail. They instantly realized the peril. Mr. Biden; Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser; his deputies Denis McDonough and Ben Rhodes; and the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, informed Mr. Obama.

“There were people here who thought that was it, we were going to call it a day,” recalled one White House official. There was no Plan B. But Mr. Obama, who often disappoints supporters by not responding to Republicans more aggressively, decided this was a moment to fight. “He decided that he would settle on nothing short of full Senate ratification,” said another official.

Starting in that meeting, they laid out a strategy. Mr. Biden was supposed to meet two days later with several Republican luminaries. Instead, Mr. Obama would host the meeting and make a public pitch for the treaty. The White House ripped up plans for the weekly radio and Internet address to make it about New Start. Then Mr. Obama flew to Lisbon for a NATO meeting, where he encouraged European leaders to speak out for the treaty.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and Mr. Kerry decided to show nothing but public respect for Mr. Kyl and to stick by the offer to spend $85 billion modernizing the nuclear weapons complex. But they gave up hope of winning over Mr. Kyl, who said he felt “jammed” by the White House. Instead, they began bypassing him to work with other Republicans. The assiduous efforts by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Biden to accommodate Republican concerns proved critical.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was one important target. He said in an interview that he had “multiple, multiple, multiple calls” with Mr. Biden and also heard from Mrs. Clinton and Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military endorsements were particularly important. “For folks who are looking for additional support, that’s powerful,” Mr. Corker said. “For all the secretaries of state to say the things they said, that is powerful.”

Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, another Republican who received attention, said the more he learned about the treaty, the more comfortable he felt. “As people were able to gain more and more information about it and started to pay attention to the people who were supportive of it, its validity and need became more apparent,” he said.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who voted for the treaty, said Republican pressure by Mr. Kyl and others produced a better result. “Even most senators who vote against the treaty would say both the treaty and the nuclear modernization program are better as a result of this,” he said.

But Mr. Obama had problems with Democrats more focused on immigration and gays in the military. Mr. Obama had to call Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, to emphasize how important the treaty was to him, and even then, the decision to call a vote on the gay rights bill last weekend provoked a reaction among Republicans who thought they had been misled.

“Biden about had a heart attack” when Mr. Reid scheduled the vote, said a senator who talked with him. At that point, the senator said it appeared there were 78 to 80 votes for the treaty. Mr. Alexander said that anger over unrelated legislation cost the treaty 5 to 10 votes.

“It was very tricky, and it almost broke it apart,” Mr. Kerry said. “That was part of the overall high-stakes poker. A lot was hanging on different things.”

On Sunday, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, joined Mr. Kyl in declaring that they would vote against the treaty. At the White House, there was worry. “People think this means we’re dead,” one White House aide said in an e-mail message to colleagues.

Mr. Donilon convened a conference call with Mr. Biden and White House officials to talk about whether to file a motion to end the debate. Once the motion was filed, there was no turning back. “As you know, there are some doubts,” Mr. Donilon told Mr. Biden, according to notes taken by a participant.

Mr. Biden cut him off. “We’ve got the votes,” he said. “Period.”

Other aides expressed doubts.

“Look,” Mr. Biden said, “I’m not saying I think we have the votes. I’m telling you, we have the votes. I have personally spoken to 12 Republican senators yesterday or today. Personally. One on one. We have the votes.”

And so they did. With Mr. Biden in the presiding officer’s chair and Mr. Kerry on the floor, the vote was called. Afterward, Mr. Obama gathered his team again in the Oval Office. This time he toasted them with Champagne.

Arms treaty approval a win for Obama, but GOP critics are gaining momentum

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 12:00 AM

Eleven days after the bruising midterm elections, President Obama got a stark reminder of how his political shellacking at home could undermine his standing abroad.

Obama was meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev at a hotel in Yokohama, Japan, after an economic summit. The improved relationship with Russia was one of Obama's main foreign policy achievements, and its centerpiece was a new nuclear-weapons agreement the two had signed in April.

Now the Russian leader wanted to know whether the treaty was in trouble in the U.S. Senate.

"President Medvedev was wondering what the election would mean, in terms of ratification. It's fair to say they were nervous," said one U.S. official who was in the meeting.

"That had an impression" on Obama, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

On the plane back to Washington, Obama told aides he was determined to get the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) through the Senate by year's end. "We've got to go for it," the official recalled Obama saying.

The next few weeks marked a remarkable resurgence for a White House demoralized by Democratic losses in the elections. On Wednesday, the Senate approved New START by a vote of 71 to 26, seven more than the 64 required for ratification but well short of the resounding approval that most nuclear-arms treaties have received.

Republican critics cited concerns about the treaty's language on missile defense, verification and other issues. But what appeared to tip a number against the treaty was Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid's (D-Nev.) decision to shoehorn issues dear to the Democratic base into the waning days of the session, which infuriated Republicans.

The White House strategy ultimately proved successful, but the rise of partisan passions may complicate Obama's future arms-control efforts.
Lining up the GOP

Even before his Nov. 13 meeting with Medvedev, Obama had turned his attention away from the midterm elections and to New START. On Nov. 5, while flying to India, he gathered national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, press secretary Robert Gibbs and senior aides Valerie Jarrett and Ben Rhodes to ensure they had a strategy to win ratification of the treaty in the lame-duck session.

They did - or so they thought.

For months, Vice President Biden had been coordinating negotiations with Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the point man on the Republican side, who was demanding extra money to fix up the aging U.S. nuclear weapons complex as a condition of giving Republicans the green light to approve New START.

While Obama was in Asia, the administration had secretly sent a high-level team including Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of U.S. nuclear forces, to Arizona to tell Kyl the administration would commit an extra $4.1 billion for nuclear modernization, on top of an earlier pledge of $10 billion.

Kyl seemed happy with the offer, officials said.

But three days after Obama's meeting with Medvedev, White House aides were astonished to learn from a news release by Kyl that he believed there wasn't enough time to consider the treaty during the lame-duck session.

"That was one of the lowest moments of our time in government," said the senior official.

There had always been what another White House official called a "healthy skepticism" about whether Kyl, the second-ranking Republican, had been negotiating in good faith. A savvy conservative steeped in arms-control issues, Kyl had helped defeat the 1999 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, dealing a blow to the Clinton administration.

But Kyl's main concern this time hadn't seemed to be the treaty's central issues, such as the number of warheads allowed, but instead modernization of the remaining nuclear weapons.

Officials believed that pushing the treaty into the next Congress would jeopardize its passage, since Republicans had picked up six seats in the midterm elections.

Now, the administration had to decide whether to proceed without Kyl.

The Kyl statement arrived as Biden was meeting with senior officials in the White House Situation Room to discuss Iraq. Talk turned immediately to New START. Later, senior aides huddled with Obama in the Oval Office.

"Both the president and vice president said to us, 'Look, this is too important to let die like this,' " Rhodes said.

The next day, Obama called Kyl to say he would push for New START.

The offensive moved on both public and private tracks. Obama and Biden appealed openly for passage of the treaty, with Obama saying there was "no higher national security priority for the lame-duck session."

On Nov. 17, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Sen. John F. Kerry, (D-Mass.) who led the Senate ratification effort, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican supporter, at a news conference at the Senate following a breakfast with lawmakers. Lugar made an emotional appeal for the treaty. "We're talking about thousands of warheads that are still there - an existential threat to our country," he declared loudly.

A day later, Obama appeared with four former Cabinet secretaries from both parties to press the case for the pact. At the White House's urging, other public appearances and endorsements followed from former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, former president George H.W. Bush and others.

The treaty had the support of much of the traditional Republican foreign policy establishment because it continued a pattern of mutual U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions and guaranteed inspections of each side's arsenal. That monitoring had lapsed in 2009 when the first START treaty expired.
Down to the wire

The behind-the-scenes effort to woo senators intensified. For months, Clinton and Biden had been calling lawmakers from airplanes, their offices and homes, and sending teams to brief them on the treaty's contents.

"It was real shoe-leather vote-by-vote work," said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Many of the senators' concerns were about the substance of the treaty. Some feared that the treaty's references to missile defense could constrain the U.S. government from building such a shield.

A few senators had pet issues. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) stunned the White House on Nov. 17 by declaring he couldn't support the treaty until he had assurances it wouldn't harm U.S. allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.

Within days, Obama used a NATO summit in Lisbon to highlight international support for the pact - including from a group of Eastern European and Baltic leaders who called for treaty passage at a news conference.

Voinovich's concerns were assuaged by the speeches, as well as by a vow by Obama to consider allowing Poles to travel visa-free to the United States.

But the treaty's prospects remained uncertain.

Kerry said in an interview that it wasn't clear supporters had the votes or "knew this thing could really happen until these last few days."

One reason: A brawl had erupted over the schedule for the lame-duck session. The administration had anticipated lengthy debates over New START and complicated spending and tax bills during the session.

But Reid also wanted to bring up other priorities dear to his constituents and the Democratic base. He announced he would push forward a bill to allow gays to serve openly in the military, and go ahead with immigration legislation.

"The administration was definitely caught off guard" by Reid's announcement, said one Senate source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It was very unsettling."

Republicans were angered at what they saw as partisan maneuvering, and some decided they couldn't go along with the nuclear treaty. "We lost a number of senators' votes because of the complications of the schedule," Kerry acknowledged, adding that Republicans had told him the figure could be as high as 10.

In the past few days, treaty supporters poured on the pressure. A "war room" was set up in the Senate, with experts from the departments of State, Defense and Energy available to answer questions.

Obama produced a letter requested by Republicans asking for a firm commitment to fully develop a missile defense system in Europe. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly urged lawmakers to pass the treaty.

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Biden, who was presiding over the Senate, read out the vote, to cheers from supporters.

"The president made a gutsy choice," Kerry said. "He decided he was prepared to lose the treaty, but he thought it was important to fight for."

The Senate passed New START. What's next?

By Robert Kagan
Thursday, December 23, 2010;

The Senate's passage of the resolution of ratification of the New START treaty should be greeted as good news by sensible people interested in a sound American foreign and defense policy. The administration's willingness to accommodate Republican concerns on missile defense and modernization of the aging nuclear force has significantly strengthened the original modest agreement. In exchange for Republican acceptance of relatively small cuts in nuclear weapons, President Obama is now on record supporting missile defense in a way that he had not been before and has committed more than $80 billion to modernizing the nuclear arsenal. Republicans ought to be delighted with the deal.

And while bipartisanship is not always a virtue, in this case it has positive ramifications in the real world. Other nations need to know, at a moment when there are doubts, that the American political system can pull itself together and make a decision. Note how many of America's allies weighed in before the vote in favor of passage. This was not just about the merits of the treaty. It was an implicit plea for the United States to show some domestic unity as a necessary foundation for world leadership. The idea that Washington could tie itself in partisan knots over such a small matter was disturbing to those who are finding themselves once again in need of a strong and capable United States. Even Obama-hating Republicans need to remember that we have only one president at a time, and it's in our national interest that he be regarded around the world as someone who can speak and act with broad national support. In this case, he earned that support by working hard to address the legitimate concerns of the other party.

The internationalist coalition that passed this treaty will be critical in advancing U.S. interests over the coming years: in dealing with Iran; China; the continuing war in Afghanistan; the stabilization of Iraq; the ratification of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama; and the maintenance of adequate defense and foreign affairs budgets. With the right presidential leadership, this muscular internationalism ought to, as it has in the past, provide the center of gravity for American foreign policy.

Those concerned about the administration's "reset" policy toward Russia should also be glad about passage. Relations with Moscow are about to grow more challenging. This is partly because some of the easy pickings - including this treaty - have already been harvested. The problems that lie ahead are going to be a tougher test of the reset: what to do about Russia's continued illegal occupation of Georgia; how to handle Russia's increasingly authoritarian domestic behavior, its brutal treatment of internal dissent and its squelching of all democratic institutions. Nor are we likely to see much Russian enthusiasm for a round of tougher sanctions on Iran. Had the treaty been defeated, any failures and setbacks on those issues would have been blamed on Republicans. Passage of New START means that responsibility will fall where it belongs: on Moscow and on the limitations of reset.

Republicans and Democrats who care about these issues should start thinking about how to hold Moscow and the Obama administration accountable. How should the United States provide strategic reassurance to Eastern European allies nervous about Moscow's intentions? How can we help Georgia maintain its independence and begin the process of regaining sovereignty over Russian-occupied territories? What kind of legislation can be useful in putting pressure on the Russian government to ease repression and allow democratic institutions some breathing room?

There are considerations beyond the U.S-Russia relationship as well. Republicans made a big show of their concern about the administration's attitude toward missile defense. Fair enough. But have they demanded more funding for missile defense programs with the same determination that they demanded more funding for nuclear modernization? Republicans are right to claim that at a time when nuclear proliferation seems on the verge of spiraling out of control, missile defenses are more necessary than ever. But this needs to be more than a talking point. Will the next, more Republican Congress put money where its mouth is?

These issues were always more important than the cutting of a few hundred warheads. Many observers believe the fight over New START was just about politics. Now that the fight is behind us, let's hope that the president and his opponents prove otherwise.

GOP figures criticize Obama's Iran policy in rally for controversial exile group

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; 10:15 PM

PARIS - A group of prominent U.S. Republicans associated with homeland security told a forum of cheering Iranian exiles here Wednesday that President Obama's policy toward Iran amounts to futile appeasement that will never persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear projects.

The Americans - former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former secretary of homeland security Tom Ridge, former White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend and former attorney general Michael Mukasey - demanded that Obama instead take the controversial Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group off the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations and incorporate it into efforts to overturn the mullah-led government in Tehran.

"Appeasement of dictators leads to war, destruction and the loss of human lives," Giuliani declared. "For your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just really a disgrace."

The four GOP figures appeared at a rally organized by the French Committee for a Democratic Iran, a pressure group formed to support MEK.

Their crowd-pleasing appeals, they said, reflected growing bipartisan sentiment in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere that the 13-year-old terrorist designation of the Paris-based dissident group should be ended because it is unfounded and has not made the Iranian government easier to deal with or halt its nuclear program. In addition, they noted, a Washington federal appeals court in July ordered Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to review the listing, and cast doubt on some of the information brought forward to support it.

The group, the largest and most active Iranian exile organization, was added to the list in 1997 as part of an effort by President Bill Clinton's administration to reach out to Tehran. It has been maintained since then, apparently to avoid antagonizing the Iranian leadership while the United States fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The accusations against Obama, while consonant with other conservative statements on the matter, seemed particularly starkly worded.

"If the United States truly wants to put pressure on the Iranian regime, it takes more than talk and it takes more than sanctions," Townsend said, without specifying what should be done.

More explicit, Mukasey urged the Obama administration to offer "all possible technical and covert support to those fighting to end oppression in Iran." He added, "What it has done and what it is doing is nothing less than an embarrassment."

With the exception of Giuliani, who earned praise for his leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, the speakers were senior homeland security figures in the George W. Bush administration, which also maintained MEK's terrorism designation. Ridge and Giuliani have since founded security consultancy businesses.

"I join with all of you in believing the United States must lift the [terrorism] designation immediately," Ridge said. "Goodwill gestures have no effect on countries or individuals that have no goodwill."

All four speakers equated the exile group with the Iranian opposition, saying it must be supported to help get rid of the government headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and overseen by a committee of senior Shiite Muslim scholars. Only then, they said, can the world be certain that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons and threaten the Middle East.

"The United States should not just be on your side," Giuliani said. "It should be enthusiastically on your side. You want the same things we want."

Reports from Iran have noted, however, that the outpouring of opposition after last year's contested election revolved around unsuccessful presidential candidates who live in Iran and not the Paris-based MEK. The exiles lost much of their following in the country after their armed faction, which was based in Iraq, functioned as a division of the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The World from The Hill: Iran 'No. 1' on agenda for Foreign Affairs panel leader

By Bridget Johnson - 12/19/10

A senior House Republican is putting Iran and its nuclear program at the top of her aggressive agenda in the next Congress.

Taking the helm of the House Foreign Affairs Committee next month, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Iran is “No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3” on the panel's to-do list.

Oversight will be stepped up, she said, while noting the limitations of legislation that passes her committee.

“The bills that we pass become interesting historical documents but not really bills that have been implemented,” the Florida Republican said, referring to bipartisan congressional efforts to pass tough Iran sanctions. “And so we want to put an end to that. Can we do it? We can't force the administration to do it.

“But we hope to have oversight hearings that will ask the administration, ‘Why aren't you sanctioning more banks and companies and countries? What are we doing and what are you waiting for?’ ” Ros-Lehtinen said.

The congresswoman said she is “absolutely” intending to hold hearings into the arms sale and nuclear proliferation ties between Iran, Venezuela and Russia.

“The ties of Iran to Venezuela are ever-growing,” she said. "They're serious, expanding all the time and increasingly worrisome to democratic interests inside Venezuela and throughout the region including the United States.”

Probing that web will be critical both at the subcommittee and full-panel levels, Ros-Lehtinen said.

“The Iranian nexus into Latin America is often overlooked, and we overlook it at our own peril,” she said. “The Russians and the arms sales and the way that they're facilitating the arms buildup for Iran, the dual-use technology that they're sending them so that it allows Iran to continue to say, ‘Oh, it's just for peaceful purposes.’ ”

Such hearings could irk the Obama administration, which has made pressing the “reset button” with Russia a priority, but Ros-Lehtinen said the reset has to be “a two-way switch,” particularly as Moscow is "still going around the Iran sanctions legislation.”

“Same ol', same ol' for them as we push restart,” she said. “And I think that we need to look at Russia as what it is — that's it's a potential good ally but not quite there. And wishing and hoping and praying doesn't make it.”

In a sit-down interview with The Hill, Ros-Lehtinen reflected on her freshman start on the committee, where the incoming chairwoman had only a chair, not even a desk space. “I've been in the Foreign Affairs Committee since the day I got here, and 21 years later I get to chair the committee,” she said. “It's unbelievable.”

The ranking Republican not only credits fleeing Fidel Castro’s Cuba at the age of eight as the reason she has a “great appreciation for the democratic form government,” but proudly shows a collection of framed photos sent to her by the Coast Guard when they encounter "inventive ways" in which Cubans hit the seas in a risky mission to make it from the communist island to America.

“I always look at that and remember from whence I came and give thanks,” she said.

Among the photos that liberally decorate the walls featuring the congresswoman with world leaders — from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Dalai Lama — is a black-and-white photo of Che Guevara taken a few minutes before he was killed by Bolivian forces in 1967. When Castro began calling Ros-Lehtinen a “loba feroz” — “ferocious she-wolf” — she promptly, proudly got it on a personalized license plate.

“Castro doesn't realize every time he calls me that it's a badge of honor,” she said. “I said, call me some more names!”

Still, Ros-Lehtinen’s focus as the next Foreign Affairs chairwoman extends beyond her homeland.

“I hope to advance in our committee the ideas that I strongly believe in, and that’s the advancement of freedom and human rights and the rule of law,” she said, adding that she will also be stressing the cost-cutting focus in the GOP’s Pledge to America.

“I am well aware of the fact that I'm not in the foreign aid part of the Appropriations Committee — that belongs there — but I’d like to be able to have a voice in setting the agenda and giving guidance as the authorizing committee to the appropriating committee and say we all need to cut,” she said.

What could be on the chopping block? Everything from foreign aid and the State Department to agencies such as USAID. And one area “ripe with fraud and waste and abuse” that Ros-Lehtinen said she would like to tackle is the United Nations's Human Rights Council, which boasts Cuba and Libya as members.

President Obama decided to put the U.S. back on the council after Bush administration protests, something the congresswoman calls “a shame.”

“I'd like to make sure that we once and for all kill all U.S. funding for that beast,” she said. “If Cuba wants to fund it, let them fund it. If Libya wants to do it, wants to belong to it, wants to fund it, let them do it. We should not be a part of it and we should certainly not pay for it.”

Ros-Lehtinen is planning on conducting oversight hearings on the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, the U.N. budget and how U.S. dollars have been used for humanitarian purposes in Haiti.

“No country should be overlooked and no region should be overlooked, and no agency should be, either,” she said.

She praised Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) for wanting to reserve 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. as committee time, which she said would help facilitate hearings and witness testimony uninterrupted by votes. She also expects really “vibrant” subcommittees that will “be looking at everything within their jurisdiction.”

With four spots on the committee in the next Congress still unfilled as of Thursday, the chairwoman-to-be is also eagerly awaiting the freshman class.

“They get it,” she said of incoming members. “They understand that America is the world’s superpower, and they’re not ashamed of it. They’re not like President Obama — ‘whether we want to be or not’ — yes, hell yes, we are and we’re darn proud of it, and they understand the difference between our allies and our enemies.”

Republicans such as Ros-Lehtinen have long shared common cause over issues such as Iran and Israel with Democrats like Reps. Brad Sherman (Calif.) and Eliot Engel (N.Y.), and she expects that bipartisan cooperation to continue.

“We don’t want rancor or division,” she said of the post-midterm landscape. “Some people were bitter, but I hope that we can move on from that and I hope that we can have a bipartisan committee that does work well.”

On Iran, she stressed that Democrats “are as equally frustrated as I am.”

“The executive branch believes that foreign affairs is their prerogative,” she said. “And they resent intrusion of the legislative arm into what they consider their ball of wax. Well, we control the purse strings in the House and in the Senate so we should have a lot to say about the implementation.”

Iran is a “huge” example of that, Ros-Lehtinen said.

“There's just a lot that we can do in setting the tone and I hope that the tone will be received in the White House as well and will be heard,” she said.

Ros-Lehtinen also said she hopes the administration will cooperate with her hearings even as it stresses diplomatic engagement with Iran.

“They're going to continue with these niceties, and I don't think that these thugs respond to niceties,” she said. “We can't continue to waste precious time. The time to act is now.”

Medvedev Says Iran Nuclear Stance ‘Unreasonably Tough’

Dec. 22 (Bloomberg)
By Ilya Arkhipov and Henry Meyer

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Iran’s policy on its nuclear program is “unreasonably tough” and urged inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Iran must allow IAEA officials on its territory and make it possible to bring the situation under control,” Medvedev said at a meeting with students in Mumbai today. “This is why there are issues with Iran and sanctions against it.”

The Persian Gulf state in mid-2010 came under a fourth set of United Nations sanctions, which were supported by Russia, as well as tougher U.S. and European Union measures.

IAEA inspectors have been stymied by Iranian officials, who have refused to discuss documents that show Iran may have researched the construction of nuclear weapons. The IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, has been investigating Iran’s nuclear work since 2003, when it was revealed that the government had hidden atomic research for two decades.

Medvedev said in July that Iran was getting closer to achieving the capability to make nuclear weapons. Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, refuses UN demands to suspend enrichment of uranium, saying the work is necessary for civilian purposes such as power generation. The U.S. and many of its allies say Iran’s nuclear technology may be intended for a weapons program.

Iran on Dec. 7 agreed to more talks on its nuclear program while saying it would “absolutely not” suspend uranium enrichment. The agreement between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. -- followed two days of negotiations in Geneva. The next talks will be held in January in Istanbul.

--Editors: Andrew Atkinson, James Hertling

To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Mumbai via the Moscow newsroom at; Henry Meyer in Moscow at