Reaction to Schumer/Levin letter
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor tells me that the White House did not urge Sens. Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin to write to AIPAC supporting ratification of New START. "The White House doesn't tell members of Congress who to send letters to," he wrote in an e-mail.
He did not answer my query about whether the White House approves of the strong-arming. But it is clear that the administration is trying to link the treaty to other issues, at least for the sake of drumming up support. From Vietor's e-mail:
We're urging support for ratification of New START because cooperation with Russia is critical to achieving a number of our foreign policy goals - including cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran, and our broader non-proliferation efforts. The alleged criticism [from pro-Israel activists] you reference seems to miss the point that Russia was critical to building the P5+1 unity that lead to a very robust set of UN sanctions against Iran, and that Russia went the extra mile and unilaterally cancelled the sale of the S-300 missile contract to Iran. These are both issues that are very important to Israel.
The outreach, however, puts pro-Israel groups in a peculiar position. AIPAC has so far declined to comment, but those familiar with the thinking of its leadership say that the group doesn't presume to have the expertise to evaluate a complex arms control treaty. Another Jewish organization reports that it has received a request from the office of House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman to endorse ratification. A decision has not been made as to whether to do so. Unlike his Senate counterparts, however, Berman did not try to bully the group into a treaty endorsement by publicly releasing the letter.
I asked Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League why his group chose to wade into the debate and come out in support of START. Through a spokesman, he replied:
ADL's perspective on the ratification issue is informed by our longstanding and publicly stated concerns about the Iranian nuclear threat which is a grave issue for Israel, a national security threat to the U.S. and could result in regional instability and nuclear threats to many areas of the world. We know that Russia is a critically important player in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability. The administration has pursued a policy of "resetting" the U.S.- Russia relationship and we believe that diplomatic approach played a role in Russia's decision to join the U.S. to increase the severity of international sanctions through the latest Security Council resolution. We decided to express our concern that failure to ratify the New START treaty could disrupt U.S.- Russia relations and have an adverse impact on the momentum in support of the administration's ongoing diplomatic steps to get Iran to change its behavior.
Who from the administration reached out? The ADL claims that it decided on its own to give the White House a hand: "Given the high profile of the issue, we decided to speak out." I suppose it was merely coincidental that the leftwing, George Soros- funded J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council reached the same decision at the same time.
Stay tuned. This likely is not the last group to make its views known.
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