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White House Objects To Nuclear Security Restrictions In House Bill

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

President Obama boards Air Force One on Wednesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The White House on Tuesday said Obama could veto a defense funding bill over language that might limit administration efforts to secure nuclear materials and comply with a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty (AP Photo/Susan Walsh). President Obama boards Air Force One on Wednesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The White House on Tuesday said Obama could veto a defense funding bill over language that might limit administration efforts to secure nuclear materials and comply with a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty (AP Photo/Susan Walsh).

WASHINGTON -- The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto the House version of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill over provisions it says could limit the Obama administration’s efforts to comply with a key nuclear arms control treaty and restrict efforts to lock down vulnerable atomic materials.

The veto threat comes as Democrats are gearing up to offer amendments on the House floor that would counteract some of the bill’s controversial provisions. Republicans, however, are looking to serve up amendments that could further constrain the president on nuclear security issues.

As it stands, the administration “strongly objects” to provisions in the legislation that the House Armed Service Committee approved last week that would limit funding for arms reductions required under the New START treaty with Russia until the administration submits various reports on spending plans. The "statement of administration of policy" issued Tuesday also says that a provision that would limit its ability to enter into any agreements with Russia to further reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal “restrict the president’s constitutional authority to negotiate international agreements.”

The Obama camp also objects to a measure that would prevent the Defense Department from spending money on its Cooperative Threat Reduction program until it certifies that Russia and China are complying with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Russia has ratified the treaty that forbids nuclear weapons testing by member states, while China and the United States are among eight holdouts. The Cooperative Threat Reduction program aims to secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world that could be used by terrorists.

The administration is also taking issue with a provision that would require the National Nuclear Security Administration to expand a program under which the federal contractors that run nuclear weapons sites assess their own performance, consistent with a pilot program ongoing at the NNSA Kansas City Plant in Missouri. Such a move would be premature given that a new congressional panel charged with studying NNSA oversight has just begun its work and “could result in unacceptable reduction of protection to workers, the public and security interests,” according to the Obama camp.

NNSA oversight has been a high profile issue since an incident last year in which an 82-year-old nun and two other peace activists were allowed to infiltrate the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. The facility suffered another security breach last week when an unauthorized civilian was able to drive her vehicle into the complex.

House Democrats are looking to offer amendments to the bill that would counteract some of the controversial provisions, including one by Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), that would specify that funds for New START agreement implementation should not be limited pending the release of the spending reports that Republicans are seeking.

Other Democratic amendments seek to limit funding for U.S. based missile defense. Republican provisions already in the bill require that a new missile defense site be constructed on the East Coast.

Planned Republican amendments could limit the administration’s flexibility on nuclear policy issues further, however. Those include one drafted by Representative Mike Turner (R-OH) that would require the president to report to Congress the details of any potential nuclear and missile defense deals with Russia. Republicans have been hounding President Obama on this issue since an incident last year in which he told the then-Russian president that he would have more flexibility to negotiate European missile defense issues after his reelection.

Other Republican amendments seek to reiterate U.S. concern over the potential for Iran and North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons. One such measure, by Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) would establish “the sense of Congress that the paramount security concern of the United States is the ongoing and illegal nuclear weapons programs of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.”

A bipartisan amendment, meanwhile, weeks to clarify “that nothing in the bill shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran.”

As of press time, the House Rules Committee had not yet determined which amendments would be allowed to proceed to the House floor.

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