Without hesitation, the President’s top spokesman yesterday predicted that the Senate will ratify the controversial START treaty dealing with arms control “before Congress leaves town.” In addition, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took some not-so-subtle whacks at high-profile critics of START, notably Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (KY.) and GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.).
“We were asked over the weekend whether Senator Kyl or Senator McConnell’s opposition impacted passage,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House yesterday, “and I don’t — I have not talked to anybody here who had them as “yes” votes at any point in this process anyway. So their statements in my mind don’t impact passage.”
Gibbs also repeatedly referred to the endorsement of START by and recent press briefing by U.S. Marine Corps General James “Hoss” Cartright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When a colleague in the White House press corps quoted Kyl’s recent salvo that ratification of START would mean the U.S. would be “snookered on missile defense [and] tactical weapons verification,” Gibbs simply responded: “I think his views on that aspect of our treaty have been very well known. Again, the expert in the U.S. government on those issues was — is General Cartwright. And I think he was very clear — and I think there was an amendment over the weekend to strike some of the language in the preamble, and it lost fairly convincingly.
“So, again, I think if there are those with questions about the impact of or the effects of any aspect of our policy as it relates to the START treaty, there are many people in this government that can answer those questions.”
(More than a few Pentagon-watchers believe the role that Cartright has played for the Obama Administration in the START debate guarantees he will succeed Admiral Mike Mullen as chairman of the JCS when his second-two-year term in the highest command position expires in 2011.)
At one point, ABC News’ Jake Tapper cited statements from Russian leaders saying they interpreted START differently in that missile defense was linked to the treaty. He specifically referred to a recent call from former Secretary of State and treaty supporter Condoleezza Rice that the Senate should make clear in an accompanying resolution that “there is no linkage” and that in her experience, “the Russians have taken language, even non-binding language like in the START treaty, and used it to justify an argument or a point of view.”
“Our policy on missile defense and protecting Europe and protecting the United States is not done with a Russian sign-off,” said Gibbs.
In a subsequent follow-up question, I asked Gibbs whether the U.S. would still honor its side of START if the Russians decided to pull out of the agreement over the issue of missile defense.
“Let me get some guidance from Cartright on that,” replied Gibbs. (At the end of the day, I had not heard back from him or from Gen. Cartright’s office).
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