Sen. Kyl demands clarification of START treaty with Russia

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) on Monday called on the Obama administration to work with the Russian government to resolve several apparent disputes over how to interpret last year's New START treaty. 

Speaking on the Senate floor, Kyl said Russia has implemented the treaty in several ways that are at odds with the U.S. interpretation and that failure to resolve these issues could have serious consequences down the road.

"[B]ecause there is no meeting of the minds on these matters, the potential for disputes and increasing tension between the two sides is likely," Kyl said in his prepared statement. "What was to serve as a vehicle for 'reset' may, in fact, serve to promote increasing discord."

New START extends the arms-reduction treaty signed in 1991, and includes new caps on weapons and a monitoring mechanism.

The Senate approved the treaty in December during the lame-duck session over Kyl's opposition. Kyl was the lead GOP negotiator between the administration and opponents to the deal after Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) offered his support. Kyl said the Senate should not have approved the treaty and that more time should have been given for the Senate debate.

Kyl's top issue is how Russia has interpreted the preamble of the treaty, which links the development of missile defense systems to offensive forces. Kyl said today that this language was a "clear attempt" by Russia to prevent improvements to U.S. and allied missile defense capabilities, by arguing that these improvements would impinge on offensive capabilities.

The Senate last year adopted an amendment saying the preamble "does not impose a legal obligation on the Parties," which the Senate takes to mean that the United States is free to develop missile defense without consequence. However, Kyl noted that Russia's implementing law for the treaty goes against this and said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed this in recent remarks.

Lavrov has said that either party can withdraw from the treaty in the event of an emergency. "We are convinced that the implementation of the full-scale global missile defense by the U.S. will be precisely such an emergency," Kyl quoted him as saying.

Kyl said this is a "fundamentally incompatible" interpretation because it allows Russia to withdraw from the treaty if the United States, as planned, expands its missile defenses in Europe. He also cited a portion of Russia's law that defends its interpretation based on "understandings" that are held, and said he is writing the State Department to ask if there are any such understandings that would give merit to the Russian interpretation.

"What 'understandings' are there?" Kyl asked, noting that the Senate was denied access to the negotiations. "There is the potential here of a major confrontation between the Senate and the administration if the administration does not immediately make a full disclosure to the Senate on these matters."

Kyl cited other inconsistencies today, including that Russia believes New START reductions apply to non-nuclear strategic weapons, while the United States believes otherwise. He also said that while both sides agreed to exchange missile flight data, Russia's law prohibits exchanging this information.

"I am not aware of an example when the U.S. has ratified a bilateral treaty in the face of clear evidence that there is no meeting of the minds on key treaty terms," Kyl said. He added that while the treaty was seen as part of the "reset" with Russia, "this can be the case ... only if the parties actually agree on the fundamentals of the treaty's meaning."