Friday February 12th, 2016 9:08AM

GOP pressing Obama to confront Russia over nukes

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress is stepping up pressure on the White House to confront Russia over allegations that it is cheating on a key nuclear arms treaty - a faceoff that could further strain U.S.-Moscow relations and dampen President Barack Obama's hopes to add deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals to his legacy.

Butting heads with Russian President Vladimir Putin over compliance with a 26-year-old treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons is not something that fits into Obama's "reset" with Russia, which already was stalled after Russia granted asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. But the issue has been simmering for a few years and Republicans on Capitol Hill want Obama to address it head-on.

It's unclear why the administration, which has raised the issue with Russia through diplomatic channels, doesn't want to publicly blow the whistle on Moscow's alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987. The treaty banned all U.S. and Russian land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 miles and 3,400 miles.

There are several theories: The U.S. doesn't want Russia to pull out of the treaty altogether, which would be embarrassing for a president who, shortly after taking office, declared his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has won Senate ratification of the New START treaty, the most significant arms control pact in nearly two decades. The treaty, which took effect in February 2011, requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of their strategic nuclear weapons to no more than 1,550 by February 2018.

Last June, Obama announced in Berlin that he wants to cut the number of U.S. nuclear arms by another third, which would shrink the total to between 1,000 and 1,100 weapons for bombers and land- and sea-based missiles. He said he intends to "seek negotiated cuts" with Russia - something Congress would be unlikely to approve if Russia is found in violation of the 1987 INF treaty.

It's an awkward time for Washington to be pointing a finger at Russia over nukes.

Besides the issues over Snowden and Ukraine, Washington needs Russia's help in ending the Syrian civil war and sealing a deal that constrains Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for lifting economic sanctions on Tehran.

The Russians say they have looked into allegations that it tested a new ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the treaty and sees the matter as closed.

Republicans in Congress are getting impatient.

"By failing to even acknowledge Russia's cheating - almost since day one of the `reset' policy and during his New START treaty negotiation - the president has failed to lead," said Rep. Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican who chairs the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

"The Congress - unwilling to wait any longer on the president - is moving ahead with declaring Russia's conduct to be a violation of its treaty obligations. But we only have one commander in chief, and it's time for him to put our defenses and other responses in place."

The Republicans especially want to know whether the Obama administration knew about the alleged cheating on the INF treaty when it was asking Congress to ratify the New START treaty, which the president hailed as a "cornerstone of our relations with Russia."

Earlier this month, Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., asked the Defense Department's inspector general to look into whether the Pentagon knew of "any and all compliance concerns regarding the INF treaty and the Russian Federation during the process of the negotiation and ratification of the New START treaty." On Friday, 10 Republican senators sent a letter to the State Department asking its inspector general to look into whether the then-assistant secretary of state for arms control knew about the compliance issue - and didn't tell the Senate - when New START was being ratified.

Moreover, the defense authorization bill the House passed last week included a clause requiring the administration to submit an unclassified report on the matter to Congress 90 days after the bill becomes law, and every 90 days thereafter. The report should address how the president is holding Russia "accountable for being in material breach" of the treaty and whether it's a good idea for the U.S. to remain a party to it.

In June 2013, Russian presidential chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said the treaty cannot last forever. He lamented that the U.S. never needed the entire class of intermediate-range missiles that the treaty banned unless it planned to go to war with Mexico or Canada. Since the treaty was signed, countries along Russia's borders, such as North Korea, China, Pakistan and India, have acquired these types of weapons, he said. "Why can anyone have weapons of this class but the U.S. and we legally cannot?" he said.

The U.S., meanwhile, continues to raise the cheating issue with the Russians, but only quietly - perhaps in hopes of keeping the treaty intact.

Rose Gottemoeller, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, acknowledged earlier this month that the U.S. has deep concerns that Moscow is cheating, but she and other officials have said little else publicly.

"We have serious compliance concerns with the Russians with regard to the INF Treaty," she said. "I've raised them repeatedly. We will continue to do so until we're satisfied. The concern has to do with a ground-launched cruise missile that has been tested."

Right now, everybody is waiting to see whether the State Department's latest compliance report, which was due in mid-April and has yet to be released, will accuse Russia of noncompliance. Last year, Congress required the administration to brief lawmakers by May 15 with or without the report. That deadline has passed as well and Republican lawmakers complain the administration has not reached out to brief them.

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to discuss the issue publicly by name, said the administration worked hard to produce a compliance report by April 15, which requires coordinated input from the State, Defense and Energy departments and intelligence agencies. The official said only that the report would be available soon.

The official said Secretary of State John Kerry had "raised treaty compliance issues broadly with Russia," that Gottemoeller had discussed them more specifically with Russian officials and that the administration regularly updates Congress on compliance-related issues "and has done so consistently, as required by law, since coming into office."
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 1 year ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 1 year ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 1 year ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Committee leaves transportation funding to lawmakers
Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive, a committee of lawmakers is warning in a report issued Tuesday.
5:36AM ( 1 year ago )
US off war footing at year's end, but wars go on
Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.
6:13PM ( 1 year ago )
GOP leader regrets talk to white supremacists; party leaders rally around him
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
6:08PM ( 1 year ago )
New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain are emerging
WASHINGTON (AP) — New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain emerged Wednesday as U.S. health officials say mosquito eradication here and abroad is key to protect preg...
6:22PM ( 1 day ago )
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that spread it here and abroad, but says "there s...
10:40PM ( 3 days ago )
Search for Missouri couple wanted for crimes across the South, including Ga., ends with one suspect dead and the other wounded
A weeklong search for a Missouri couple wanted in a series of robberies and abductions across the South ended with one suspect dead and the other wounded Friday, after authorities say they chased the pair across the highway and through a rural neighborhood and exchanged gunfire with them in Florida's Panhandle.
By The Associated Press
9:57PM ( 6 days ago )
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while, buoying consumers, frustrating oil producers
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while.That reality is wreaking havoc and causing uncertainty for some governments and businesses, while creating financial windfalls for others. Less expensive...
6:18PM ( 1 week ago )
Cruz (R) expected to claim conservative Iowa caucus victory, with Clinton (D) and Sanders (D) deadlocked among liberal vote
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz swept to victory in Iowa's Republican caucuses Monday, overcoming billionaire Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were deadlocked in a tight race.
By The Associated Press
10:55PM ( 1 week ago )