New START & Obama’s Mysterious Trip to Russia

When 2008 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacked President Obama’s new arms treaty with Russia as a dangerous trap, Republican Senator Richard Lugar came to the defense of the Democratic president and attacked Romney as “misinformed.” But Lugar’s desperate effort to save Obama’s controversial treaty, whose passage has been badly damaged by revelations of Russian spying, doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Lugar, one of the leading globalists in the Senate, was a mentor for then-Senator Barack Obama during a controversial three-day visit they made to Russia and Eastern Europe in 2005.

Senators Lugar & Obama, August 2005 in Russia

During the visit, Russian authorities detained Obama and Lugar, threatened to search their plane, and examined their passports. Strangely, an official report from Lugar’s office about the trip ignored the incident.

Not only is Lugar very close to Obama, one of his key congressional staffers is Carl Meacham, who used to work for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

The push for ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which requires 67 votes for passage, has been complicated by the recent arrests—and quick release—of 10 Russian agents acting on behalf of the SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence service which serves as the successor to the old Soviet KGB. The Hill newspaper noted that court documents in the case demonstrated that agents “were asked by Moscow to collect information about the treaty” in advance of a 2009 trip by Obama to Russia , during which the new President “called on Moscow to stop viewing America as an adversary,” as the British publication the Guardian put it.

One document in the spy case reveals that Moscow had “requested information on the U.S. position with respect to a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, Afghanistan , and Iran ’s nuclear weapons program.” It said Russian agents were directed to obtain information on “[ Russia ] policy team members,” but the names of four Obama Administration officials who were targeted in this effort were deleted.

The document says Moscow also wanted its agents to obtain information from sources “close to State Department, government, major think tanks.”

One of the documents says the Russians were interested in sources “who are in, or able to infiltrate, United States policy-making circles,” and that one of the Russian agents “met with an employee of the U.S. Government with regard to nuclear weapons research.”

The documents suggest that the Russian or U.S. position on New START could have been affected by the activities of the Russian intelligence agents.

Lugar favors the controversial treaty with Russia , but has also adopted a left-wing approach to relations with Communist Cuba, having issued a report (PDF) in 2009 urging the abandonment of the bipartisan policy of isolating and using economic sanctions against the terror-supporting dictatorship. The report was written by Meacham, who is officially in charge of Latin American affairs at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A frequent traveler to Russia and the old Soviet Union, Lugar is one of the most left-wing Republican U.S. senators on foreign policy issues, having proudly accepted campaign contributions from the pro-world government group, Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS). Lugar even gave the group an interview, advocating passage of another treaty, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Former banner of Citizens for Global Solutions

The CGS, which changed its name from World Federalist Association, is targeting Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker as a possible vote for the new Russian treaty. A vote could come in the next two weeks.

The treaty, signed on April 8 by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, would obligate both nations to cap their strategic nuclear weapons at 1,550 warheads, a one-third reduction, but it would not inhibit the development or deployment of tactical or shorter range nuclear weapons.

What’s more, in statements in the preamble to the pact, the two sides recognize “the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defense arms” and how “this interrelationship will become more important as strategic arms are reduced.” Romney says—and the National Review agrees—that this linkage is a major concession to the Russians that could limit U.S. missile defenses.

Romney declared, “New START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferating rogue states such as Iran and North Korea . Its preamble links strategic defense with strategic arsenal. It explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites. And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty if it believes that the United States has significantly increased its missile defense capability.”

While opposition has emerged and is growing to the New START, foreign aid to Russia, supposedly for the purposes of dismantling weapons of mass destruction, has continued under Republican and Democratic Administrations.

In fact, the trip by Lugar and Obama to Russia in 2005 was designed to promote the scandal-ridden “Cooperative Threat Reduction Program” (CTR), also known as the Nunn-Lugar program for its original Senate sponsors. Lugar and Obama co-sponsored a follow-up program.

However, reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveal that some of the funds, which now total over $6 billion, have been used to destroy obsolete weapons that Moscow was going to replace with high-tech arms and provide salaries for Russian scientists.

In response to Romney’s criticism of the New START, Steven Pifer and Strobe Talbott of the Brookings Institution acknowledged in a follow-up column in The Washington Post that Romney is correct that the measure “does not limit tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia has a significant numerical advantage.” But they nevertheless said that because some U.S. allies which are directly threatened by Russian tactical nuclear weapons support the treaty, the U.S. should do so as well.

Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine , is director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control Initiative, while Talbott, deputy secretary of state in the Clinton Administration from 1994 to 2001, is president of Brookings. Talbott surfaced in the blockbuster book, Comrade J, based on the revelations of a Russian master spy, as having been a trusted
contact of the Russian intelligence service. He denied serving as an agent of Russia .

Strobe Talbott

But in 1994, when Talbott was being considered for his State Department post in the Clinton Administration, it was disclosed that while he was a correspondent for Time magazine in Moscow , he had maintained a relationship with Victor Louis, a Soviet “journalist” who was actually a Soviet KGB intelligence agent.

Lugar is considered one of Talbott’s closest friends in the U.S. Senate. For his part, Obama’s old Senate website had posted an article saying that Lugar was “helping” Obama in foreign policy and that they had “formed a political joint venture and mutual admiration society.”

In regard to serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee together, Bloomberg reported that Lugar had “sought out Obama” for a spot on the committee shortly after Obama won his seat in 2004, and that their relationship was so deep that Lugar came to be considered an informal senior adviser to Obama after his election to the presidency.

Other Senators are clearly not so excited about Obama’s foreign policy “experience” and dealings with the Russians.

A June 29 letter to Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, from all the panel’s Republicans—except for Lugar—says the Russians have a history of violating arms control treaties and that more time is needed to examine New START.

On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a secret hearing on whether Russian compliance with the treaty can be verified. On Thursday, the Foreign Relations Committee holds an open hearing on the treaty.

On the matter of Obama’s foreign policy “experience,” before becoming President, he reportedly authored a college thesis on Soviet nuclear disarmament. But no copy has ever turned up. It was subsequently revealed by The New York Times that he wrote a 1983 article, “Breaking the War Mentality,” for a campus newsmagazine at Columbia University , not only calling for support of the nuclear weapons freeze movement but going beyond that to calling for the abandonment of specific weapons systems and a general goal of a “nuclear free world.”

The nuclear freeze campaign was a Soviet-orchestrated effort to prevent the U.S. from responding militarily to a Soviet nuclear weapons buildup. It failed, as then-President Reagan pursued a military build-up and deployment of new nuclear weapons in Europe .

Considering his views on the old Soviet Union and Russia , it is perhaps not surprising that Obama was quoted as being nonchalant about his detention with Lugar in Russia , saying, “We were in a lounge with a locked door at one point. It wasn’t the gulag.”

However, one account said that Lugar and Obama were kept in “an uncomfortably stuffy room” for three hours and “allowed out onto an adjoining porch area only after they surrendered their passports.”

In a piece titled, “Hoosier Daddy,” a reference to Lugar being from Indiana, the Washington Monthly noted that, after Lugar became Obama’s mentor in the Senate, the two men “grew closer” during the 2005 Russian tour. Lugar had said, however, in regard to their detention, “it makes you wonder who really is running the country.”

Barack Obama & Dmitry Medvedev on the road to Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va., June 24, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Five years later, there can still be no doubt. It is under the iron grip of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who had served as president before allowing the current president and his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, to take over the position.

Not only does Russia continues its spying operations, many of them based at the United Nations in New York, but it has launched a massive anti-American propaganda effort through the global Russia Today television channel, with correspondents in New York and Washington, D.C. It recently ran an interview with a leader of the New Black Panther Party alleging that Fox News has been “stirring up racial fears” in the U.S.

Still, Lugar remains completely devoted to negotiations, agreements and a close relationship with Putin’s Russia . While he posted an attack on Romney for opposing the New START, a search of Lugar’s website finds no demands for any investigations to determine what influence the Russian intelligence operations may have had on the final terms in the treaty.

Cliff Kincaid is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at

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