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GOP Senators Press Gottemoeller on Prospect of Unilateral Arms Control

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

Acting under secretary of State for arms control and international security Rose Gottemoeller is shown in a May file photo. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is weighing whether to confirm her to the position in an official capacity (AP Photo/Jim Cole). Acting under secretary of State for arms control and international security Rose Gottemoeller is shown in a May file photo. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is weighing whether to confirm her to the position in an official capacity (AP Photo/Jim Cole).

WASHINGTON -- Rose Gottemoeller, President Obama’s nominee to be under secretary of State for arms control and international security, faced sharp questions on Thursday during her confirmation hearing from GOP senators regarding whether the administration would ever consider unilateral arms reductions.

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked Gottemoeller whether statements by the president that he would pursue additional reductions jointly with Russia foreclosed the possibility that the administration would take up the issue on its own if collaboration with Moscow does not materialize.

Gottemoeller, already acting in the position for which she has been nominated, said the administration had begun initial discussions with Russian officials regarding a potential new arms-control treaty, and that “unilateral reductions are not on the table.”

Corker pressed: “So you see no way the administration would pursue unilateral reductions without a treaty?”

Gottemoeller responded: “Well, as I said, unilateral reductions are not on the table.” She offered a similar response when quizzed on the same matter by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who, not satisfied with her response, repeated the question several times.

“’Not on the table’ signifies to me they’re not being currently considered, but it leaves the door open to them potentially being considered,” Rubio said. “I understand that you don’t have the authority to make that decision, you simply execute the policy of this administration. But apparently it’s not the policy of this administration to rule them out in the future.”

Gottemoeller said it was “important to bear in mind that there may be a number of reasons why we would undertake reductions.”

“For example,” she said, “in our [intercontinental-ballistic missile force], the Air Force may, for example, determine that an ICBM or a couple of ICBMs are a safety danger and could explode. This is an entirely hypothetical circumstance. I’m just saying it’s important to know that we may take reductions in a number of different ways.”

Rubio said he was not concerned with such a scenario and was instead interested in what he called “military significant” reductions.

“The point I’m trying to get at is I don’t support unilateral reductions by the United States as an effort of goodwill to the world,” Rubio said. “So far I’ve not heard anyone in the administration rule out further militarily significant reductions.”

No senators stated opposition to Gottemoeller’s confirmation during the hearing. However, staff for committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) declined to comment on whether they expected the process to continue smoothly.

Menendez spokesman Adam Sharon said the timing of a vote on Gottemoeller's confirmation depended in part on how quickly panel members submmited written follow-up questions to the nominee. The committee could vote on the nomination as soon as Tuesday, when a panel business meeting on unrelated matters is scheduled, Sharon said, but it could take longer.

The chairman during the hearing acknowledged differences between the panel members on a variety of issues but said they “cannot disagree on the significance of the threats we face and the need to have a team in place tasked with representing our security interests at the highest levels.

“This is not the time to say ‘no’ to confirming qualified, experienced non-proliferation experts when so much is at stake in Syria, Iran, North Korea, and in negotiations with Russia -- not when we imagine the consequences of the spread of these weapons,” Menendez added.

Gottemoeller was introduced at the onset of the hearing by Senators from both parties, Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), both of whom endorsed her nomination.

In a statement to Global Security Newswire, Corker said he intended to support Gottemoeller’s nomination, along with that of two of her colleagues. They are Frank Rose, who Obama nominated to be assistant secretary of State for verification and compliance, and Adam Scheinman, the nominee to be special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation, with the rank of ambassador.

Corker said, however, that he “will be watching closely to ensure the commitments they reaffirmed today regarding nuclear modernization, missile defense and no unilateral reductions are closely adhered to by the administration.” In addition to arms reductions, Congressional Republicans have repeatedly raised concerns over the prospect of the Obama administration scaling back efforts to upgrade U.S. nuclear weapon and missile defense capabilities.

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