Harry Reid Moves to Block Iran Sanctions Vote

February 27, 2014 | Edited by Lauren Mladenka and Geoff Wilson

Reid steps in - “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is blocking a vote on Iran sanctions demanded by Senate Republicans,” writes Burgess Everett in Politico. “The GOP rolled fresh economic penalties on Iran into their alternative to Democrats’ veterans’ benefits bill, pressing for Congress to weigh in on diplomatic talks between global powers and Iran on scaling back the country’s nuclear program. On Wednesday evening, Reid moved to cut off debate on the bill and block consideration of amendments to the legislation, dimming any chance of an immediate vote on Iran sanctions.”

--“Reid has sided with President Barack Obama on Iran, heeding the president’s warning that any vote on Iran sanctions — even conditional ones as suggested by McConnell — would shatter delicate diplomatic talks. The Democratic leader blamed Republicans for using sanctions as cover for their opposition to the veterans bill and for turning Iran into a partisan issue,” Everett says. “The first amendment the Republicans demand is an unrelated issue on … Iran,” Reid argues. “Republicans say they want to help veterans; a strange way of showing it. We introduced a bill that would do just that, Republicans immediately inject partisan politics into the mix.” Read the full story here. http://politi.co/N51vuK

Veterans push back - “Two of America's largest veterans organizations on Wednesday urged Republicans to abandon their push to attach Iran sanctions to pending benefits legislation,” writes Julian Pecquet in The Hill. “The American Legion and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are demanding a clean vote on a bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would boost veterans' healthcare programs and give veterans in-state tuition rates at all schools across the country. The bill is stuck in the Senate as lawmakers debate amendments, notably a push from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to attach Iran sanctions.”

--“Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” says an American Legion official. “We can deal with Iran — or any other issue unrelated specifically to veterans — with separate legislation.” Read the full article here. http://bit.ly/1gCRkpO

Preventing war - “The United States has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before it considers going to war with Tehran to force it to give up its nuclear activities, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday. ‘We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if before we go to war there actually might be a peaceful solution,’ Kerry told a group of reporters.”

--“Kerry said Iran was so far keeping its end of the bargain under the November 24 agreement by, among other things, reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges.” Lesley Wroughton and Mohammad Zargham have the story in Reuters. http://reut.rs/1cbXgZV

13 exposed to radiation at WIPP - “Thirteen workers at the nation's underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico have tested positive for radiation exposure after a recent leak released toxic particles in and around the plant,” reports Jeri Clausing for the AP. “The U.S. Department of Energy and the contractor that runs the Waste Isolation Pilot Project declined to comment further on the preliminary test results announced Wednesday, saying they'll discuss the issue at a news conference Thursday afternoon.”

--“All employees who were working at the southeastern New Mexico plant when the leak occurred late Feb. 14 were checked for contamination before being allowed to leave, the news release said. But biological samples were also taken to check for possible exposure from inhaling radioactive particles. Elevated radiation levels have been detected in the air around the plant, but officials have said the readings are too low to constitute a public health threat. The accident is the first-known release of radiation since the dump near Carlsbad began taking plutonium-contaminated waste from the nation's nuclear bomb building sites 15 years ago. It came just nine days after a truck hauling salt in the plant's deep mines caught fire, but officials say they are confident the incidents are unrelated.” Read the full story here. http://apne.ws/1jDduuC

Crews may re-enter WIPP soon - “Crews may soon get orders to re-enter a nuclear-material burial site where airborne radioactivity was detected earlier this month,” Global Security Newswire reports. “Resuming operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's underground storage area in New Mexico could enable analysts to locate the source of radioactive contaminants picked up by an automatic sensor on Feb. 14, after crews had left for the day.” Full report here. http://bit.ly/1cpKD88

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Changing course with North Korea - “A new expert report recommends changing U.S. policy on North Korea denuclearization to focus more on interim steps and crisis-stability measures,” Rachel Oswald reports for Global Security Newswire. “A paper by the National Security Network and the National Committee on North Korea argues a change of approach is needed as the current policy of refusing to engage until Pyongyang first takes serious disarmament steps ‘risks de facto recognition of North Korea as a nuclear power.’”

--“Since the last round of multinational aid-for-denuclearization negotiations were held in late 2008, Pyongyang has made serious headway in its march toward a deliverable nuclear weapon. Two more underground atomic tests have been held in the ensuing years, as well as the successful launch of a satellite-carrying space rocket that could serve as the basis of an intercontinental ballistic missile. North Korea also is thought to have improved its designs for a prototype road-mobile strategic missile, and to be moving rapidly to expand its capacity to produce plutonium and highly enriched uranium.”

--“The policy paper, released on Wednesday, suggests trying to reach another moratorium agreement and resuming International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of nuclear facilities. Those could serve as interim steps to build confidence for reinvigorating the long-frozen denuclearization talks, according to the analysis.” Furthermore, it “calls for a ‘strategic shaping’ approach toward the North Korea nuclear impasse that would focus on proactive engagement and strengthening crisis-management tools. Among the suggested measures for improving the diplomatic climate with Pyongyang are restarting a joint U.S.-North Korean military mission to retrieve the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War and holding more informal, expert-level ‘Track 2’ talks.” Full story here. http://bit.ly/1kiPa0P

Nunn and Lugar happy things worked out, still worried - “Former senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and Sam Nunn of Georgia say they're pleased that efforts to disarm Ukraine of its nuclear weapons worked two decades ago, but they caution that the threat from weapons of mass destruction around the world is still high,” the AP reports. The two Senators famously partnered “for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction in the early 1990s… [a program that] is credited with eliminating about 10,000 weapons of mass destruction before it expired last year.” Most of all, the two Senators are concerned with “the increasing ease with which people can build weapons of mass destruction,” and the continued proliferation risks from nations such as Pakistan and North Korea. Full story here. http://bit.ly/1fLsm9K

Good will on disarmament - “A key multilateral disarmament body appears ready to renew an informal working group aimed at breaking a stalemate dating back to the 1990,” reports Diane Barnes for Global Security Newswire. “Discussions at the international Conference on Disarmament in Geneva this week revealed ‘the common will’ to have the informal working group ‘re-established,’ and to return the wider, consensus-based forum to work ‘as soon as possible.’” Full story here. http://bit.ly/N7nsco

A realistic view of US-Russian relationship - “In Washington, new indications of the tectonic shifts in the U.S.-Russia relationship [are] visible,” writes Greg Thielmann in a piece for The National Interest. “The intelligence community’s 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment led with cyber threats, and listed a wide variety of other threat categories, including “mass atrocities” and “extreme weather events.” However, Russia’s nuclear arsenal was conspicuously absent. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made no mention of it in three congressional hearings on the assessment. Moreover, members of Congress asked Clapper no questions about Russian strategic forces in those hearings. The American people reflect a similar perception; only 9 percent still identify Russia as America’s greatest threat, according to a recent Gallup poll.”

--“Unfortunately, one aspect of the Cold War stubbornly persists. U.S. and Russian strategic forces are still structured and poised to deal with a disarming nuclear first-strike directed by one state against the other. Indeed, the current U.S. nuclear stockpile includes nearly two thousand operational strategic warheads, a significant portion of which are on continuous alert, ready for launch in minutes. For its part, Moscow still operates its strategic forces as if the possibility of a U.S. first-strike is real… Moreover, U.S. planning for future defense forces anticipates retaining and modernizing all three legs of the nuclear triad at a currently programmed ten-year cost of some $355 billion. So far, resources for the forces directed at the highest-priority contemporary threats identified by the U.S. intelligence agencies must take a back seat to the threat that wasn’t worth mentioning in their annual assessment.

--“U.S. intelligence is doing its job, objectively assessing the most serious threats now facing the country. It is the job of the political leadership to draw appropriate conclusions regarding the need for changes in U.S. nuclear force posture. President Obama’s speeches appear to set the right course, but his actions have not been commensurate. A long-overdue task of the U.S. Executive and Legislative Branches is to bring the size and posture of the U.S. nuclear arsenal into alignment with the threat. This means moving expeditiously to a smaller nuclear force at a lower state of readiness.” Full story here. http://bit.ly/1kcudHX