Diplomats, Man the Phones

The Obama team has been hard at work lobbying for New START. The arms-control treaty, already signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, will likely be up for a vote in the Senate today. The agreement has faced stiff opposition from many Republicans, but Democrats are confident they have the votes needed to push the treaty through. Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were on the phone with Republican lawmakers attempting to sway some of them to support the agreement. Meanwhile, Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter demonstrating his support for the treaty. He wrote that “military perspectives” had already been considered and that the pact is “vital to U.S. national security.” Mullen was refuting claims by some Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the treaty is more about politics than security.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is reporting that, during his visit to North Korea, the government in Pyongyang expressed its willingness to make certain concessions on the nuclear front. He said that the North had indicated it will let UN inspectors into its shiny new uranium-enrichment facility and potentially set up a joint military commission with Seoul and Washington among other things. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley sought to clarify the issue a bit yesterday. He stated once again that Richardson was on a private visit to North Korea and was not engaging in any kind of U.S. government business (though Richardson said today that he plans to brief the administration on his trip). Crowley was also cautious about Pyongyang’s apparent change of heart, saying that “North Korea talks a great game. . . . The real issue is what will they do.” He noted that there has been a “string of broken promises by North Korea going back many, many years,” so the administration isn’t getting its hopes up just yet.

General David Petraeus is trying to make up for an article in Time that quotes some U.S. service members criticizing other NATO coalition forces’ efforts in the war in Afghanistan. The critiques leveled against Poland were particularly biting, and the Poles are not happy. Petraeus took to the Internet. In a statement on the Polish Defense Ministry’s website, the commander of troops in Afghanistan said that Polish forces are serving “in a truly admirable fashion.” Poland has been a close U.S. ally, contributing 2,600 troops to Afghanistan that Washington can’t afford to lose right now.

Yesterday, official word came that Hugo Chavez’s government was rejecting an agreement on the U.S. nominee to be ambassador to Venezuela, Larry Palmer. The statement came on the heels of some strong words on Saturday—Chavez said that if Palmer set foot in Venezuela he would be immediately be returned to the United States. The Obama administration has likewise warned Chavez that if he withdraws his consent for Palmer, there would be an impact on relations. The exact repercussions are still being debated, but according to Crowley, the rejection “has consequences in terms of our relationship with Venezuela.”

Elsewhere, Lula’s successor in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, will be inaugurated as president on New Year’s Day. Secretary Clinton is scheduled to make the journey south to attend the event.