WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration accusation that Russia violated a key nuclear weapons treaty leaves the future of the 26-year-old accord in question and further dampens President Barack Obama's hopes to burnish his legacy with deeper cuts to nuclear arsenals.
The State Department's annual report on international compliance of arms control agreements released Tuesday said the U.S. had determined that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that President Ronald Reagan signed with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.
The treaty says the U.S. and Russia cannot possess, produce or test-flight a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles. Possessing or producing launchers for this type of missiles also is banned under the treaty, which helps protect the the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Far East.
"We're going to hold them to living up to the commitments that they've made," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
The administration has not said where and when the alleged violation occurred, but a Russian official said the concerns date back to 2009. The administration, which said it is prepared to discuss the issue with senior Russian officials, raised its concerns about the treaty with Moscow last year.
"It is fair for you to conclude that their response to our concerns was wholly unsatisfactory," Earnest said.
John Tefft, ambassador-nominee to Russia, said he hoped the Russians would negotiate an end to the dispute.
"I hope that the Russians will seize the opportunity ... to meet with our experts, to try to resolve this — to shelve this particular weapon system and to bring themselves back into compliance with the INF treaty," Tefft told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
Retired Lt. Gen. Yevgeniy Buzhinsky, the former head of the Russian Defense Ministry's international department, said that the U.S. complaints dated back to 2009. "Now, when an information war is being waged against Russia, the old accusations are being used again," he said, according to Interfax.
Buzhinsky said that Russia has had its own complaints about the U.S. compliance with the INF treaty. In particular, he said that the U.S. was using its missiles as targets to test its missile interceptors, which he argued is forbidden under the treaty.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the United States remains in full compliance with all its INF Treaty obligations.
The treaty dispute comes at a highly strained time between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin over Russia's intervention in Ukraine and Putin's grant of asylum to National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden.
The compliance report was due out in April. In raising the issue now, the U.S. appears to be placing increased pressure on Russia. The European Union and the United States announced new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday in the face of U.S. evidence that Russia has continued to assist separatist forces in Ukraine.
Congress has been stepping up pressure on the White House for months to confront Russia over the treaty violation.
"It is past time this administration holds Russia accountable for its actions," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Russia has hinted that it wants out of the treaty.
Back in June 2013, Russian presidential chief of staff Sergei Ivanov lamented that the U.S. never needed the entire class of intermediate-range missiles that the treaty banned unless it planned to go to war with Mexico or Canada. Since the treaty was signed, countries along Russia's borders, such as North Korea, China, Pakistan and India, have acquired these types of weapons, he said.
"Why can anyone have weapons of this class but the U.S. and we legally cannot?" he said.
Obama, who has made nuclear disarmament a key foreign policy aim, doesn't want Russia to pull out of the treaty. The president won Senate ratification of a New START treaty, which took effect in February 2011 and requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of their strategic nuclear weapons to no more than 1,550 by February 2018.
Obama last year announced that he wants to cut the number of U.S. nuclear arms by another third and that he would "seek negotiated cuts" with Russia, a goal now complicated by the accusation of a missile treaty violation.
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans unveiled a slimmed-down bill Tuesday to address the immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border by sending in National Guard troops and speeding migrant youths back home. The election-year measure would allow Republicans to say they tried to solve the humanitarian problem in South Texas, even though it stands no chance of becoming law.
The bill would cost $659 million through the final two months of this fiscal year, far less than the $3.7 billion requested by President Barack Obama for this year and next, and a sharp reduction from the $1.5 billion initially proposed by the House spending committee. The cuts were designed to win over skeptical conservatives and give lawmakers something they could pass before leaving Washington at week's end for their annual August recess.
The measure also includes policy changes rejected by most Democrats that would allow unaccompanied youths who've been arriving by the tens of thousands from Central America to be turned around quickly at the border and sent back home.
"I think there's sufficient support in the House to move this bill," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters after meeting with rank-and-file lawmakers on the issue, though he said there was more work to do.
A vote was set for Thursday.
Even if it does pass the House, the bill is certain to be rejected by the Democratic-run Senate, which was set to take a procedural vote on its own $2.7 billion border package Wednesday.
The Senate bill, which does not include the policy changes embraced by the House, lacks GOP support and seemed unlikely to move forward. The Senate bill also includes money for Western wildfires and Israeli defense that was left out of the House version. So there appeared to be no path to a compromise that could send a bill to Obama's desk ahead of the five-week congressional recess.
Complicating matters further, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid floated the idea of using the House measure as a vehicle for advancing a comprehensive immigration reform bill including a path to citizenship for millions now here illegally. That legislation passed the Senate a year ago but stalled in the House. "Maybe it's an opening for us to have a conference on our comprehensive immigration reform," Reid told reporters.
House conservatives have warned repeatedly that anything they pass could become a vehicle for the Senate's immigration bill, and Reid's comments seemed to confirm their worst fears. Perhaps that was intentional, since the result could be to limit conservative support for the border spending bill in the House.
Boehner responded angrily, accusing Reid of "making a deceitful and cynical attempt to derail the House's common-sense solution."
"So let me be as clear as I can be with Senator Reid: the House of Representatives will not take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion," Boehner said in a statement.
If Reid's ploy was intended to upset Boehner's efforts, it was unclear that it would succeed.
Numerous House Republicans have said that they did not want to go back to their districts to face voters without acting to deal with the influx of kids and teens showing up at the South Texas border without their parents, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. More than 57,000 have arrived since October, many fleeing vicious gangs and trying to reunite with family members, but also drawn by rumors that once here, they would be allowed to stay.
Ahead of Reid's remarks, GOP lawmakers said that their measure appeared to enjoy widespread support, although some conservatives said they remained opposed.
"Frankly, we need to show that we can act and act thoughtfully, responsibly and quickly," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who supports the measure.
But Democrats rejected the legislation, largely because of the legal change to a 2008 trafficking law that guarantees immigration hearings for unaccompanied kids who arrive here from anywhere other than Mexico or Canada. The House GOP bill would allow the Central American kids to be treated like Mexican kids, who can be turned around quickly at the border unless they can convince Border Patrol agents that they have a credible fear of return meriting additional screening.
"If they try to change the law that covers and protects the rights of these refugee children, we are going to oppose it," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y. "We will vote against it and they will not have the votes to pass it."
The House GOP legislation includes $405 million for the Homeland Security Department, which administration officials have said is in danger of running out of money for customs and border activities in coming months. It includes $22 million to hire more temporary immigration judges and outfit immigration courtrooms with video teleconferencing equipment, and $35 million to double spending for the National Guard presence on the border. In addition, $197 million would go to the Health and Human Services Department for housing and humanitarian assistance for the minors, and $40 million for Central American governments to help with repatriation efforts.
DENVER (AP) — Hundreds of people across the country lined up Tuesday to tell the Environmental Protection Agency that its new rules for power-plant pollution either go too far or not far enough.
The agency is holding hearings this week in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington on President Barack Obama's plan to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030, with 2005 levels as the starting point. The rules are intended to curb global warming.
Coal mines, electric utilities, labor unions, environmental groups, renewable-energy companies, government agencies, religious and civil rights organizations and others sent representatives to the hearings.
Some endorsed the proposals, while others said they were a timid response to a huge problem or an unwarranted attack on the coal industry and its employees.
John Kinkaid, a Moffat County, Colorado, commissioner, told the EPA in Denver that the rules would devastate his area, home to a major power plant.
"Energy is the lifeblood of our economy," he said. "Moffat County deserves better than to be turned into another Detroit, Michigan."
Retired coal miner Stanley Sturgill of Harlan County, Kentucky, traveled to Denver to tell the EPA that coal-fired plants are crippling his health and the public's. Sturgill said he suffers from black lung and other respiratory diseases.
"The rule does not do nearly enough to protect the health of the front-line communities," he said. "We're dying, literally dying, for you to help us."
In Atlanta, Jim Doyle, president of Business Forward and a former Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration, said the benefits of fighting climate change — and the extreme weather it is blamed for — outweigh the potential costs. "Over the past four years, American factories have been disrupted by typhoons in Thailand, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, droughts in Texas, tornadoes in Kentucky, falling water levels across the Great Lakes and flooding in the Northeast," he said.
Others at the Atlanta hearing said the rules could raise electricity prices and cause job losses without significantly curtailing global carbon emissions. As U.S. utilities switch to natural gas, more U.S. coal is being shipped and burned overseas.
With only five minutes each to address the EPA, scores of advocates in Denver staged rallies for or against the proposed rules.
"They're basically trying to shut down coal, which takes away my job," said Mike Zimmerman, a foreman at the Twentymile Mine in northwestern Colorado, who attended a rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.
At a rally staged by a group called Colorado Moms Know Best, Jaime Travis said the rules would cause some disruption but should be implemented. "It won't be painless. But as a mother, I am truly worried about the future, not just of my state, but the country and the world," she said.
The Denver meetings are the only ones being held in the West, where the topic of air pollution traditionally sets off a loud debate over environmental values and economic vitality. Three of the top 10 coal-producing states are in the West — Wyoming, Montana and Colorado. Wyoming is No. 1, producing nearly 40 percent of the U.S. total and more than three times as much as West Virginia, the No. 2 state, according to the National Mining Association.
States would have wide latitude in choosing how to meet the administration's goals. That leaves an uncertain fate for some of the West's large coal-fired power plants, including Montana's 2,100-megawatt Colstrip plant.
Montana's Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, has said at least some of Colstrip's four units could keep operating if the state can cut emissions in other areas.
Four power plants on tribal land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah will be dealt with under a separate proposal yet to be announced.
Even without the new rules, coal plants face increasing pressure from regulators to rein in other forms of pollution. Federal officials said Monday that Arizona's Navajo Generating Station will produce one-third less energy by 2020 and could close by 2044 under a rule aimed at reducing haze-causing nitrogen oxide pollution.
The EPA expects 1,600 people to speak in the four cities and has already received more than 300,000 written comments, which will be accepted until Oct. 16.
EPA technical experts will listen to the comments, and a transcript will go into the EPA record, agency spokeswoman Lisa McClain-Vanderpool said. The EPA plans to release the final rules next year.
The Atlanta, Denver and Washington hearings continue Wednesday. The Pittsburgh hearings will be held Thursday and Friday.