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US-Russia START treaty set for Senate approval

Video by Stephen Clarke

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-22

The START nuclear treaty between Russia and the United States secured enough Republican support Tuesday to win Senate approval in a final vote this week. The treaty would ultimately reduce each country’s strategic atomic arsenal to 1,550.

REUTERS - President Barack Obama's strategic nuclear arms treaty with Russia secured enough votes on Tuesday to clear a Republican procedural hurdle and appeared headed toward ratification in the U.S. Senate this week.

A motion to limit further debate on the treaty passed with 67 votes, the same number needed to secure Senate approval. A final vote on the accord will take place within 30 hours.
 
The treaty, which would cut strategic atomic weapons deployed by each country to no more than 1,550 within seven years, was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April.
 
It is a centerpiece of Obama's bid to "re-set" relations with Russia, which has been increasingly cooperative on issues related to U.S. national security, from curbing Iran's nuclear program to the war in Afghanistan.
 
At least 10 Senate Republicans publicly backed the accord -- enough to give Obama's Democrats the needed two-thirds majority in the 100-member chamber. All 58 members of the Senate Democratic caucus were expected to support the treaty.
 
 "We are on the brink of writing the next chapter in the 40-year history of wrestling with the threat of nuclear weapons," said Democratic Senator John Kerry, who as chairman of Foreign Relations Committee has helped lead the charge for START.
 
At least four more Republicans announced they would support the treaty on Tuesday, including Lamar Alexander, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, and Bob Corker, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee that led the review of the pact. The Senate's top two Republicans said they opposed the treaty.
 
Alexander said he supported the treaty because it left the United States with "enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come" while Obama has committed $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the country's nuclear arms infrastructure.
 
Both Corker and Alexander represent the state of Tennessee, home of one of the nuclear facilities that will receive billions of dollars in modernization funding under an agreement worked out between lawmakers and the White House.
 
Senior Republican aides said a dozen or more Republican senators may end up supporting the accord, which would hand Obama a victory on his top foreign policy priority for the current legislative session.
 
Russian veto?
 
"We believe the Senate will pass and ratify the START treaty in the next day or so," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told a news briefing.
 
But Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and a backer of the treaty, said he wasn't yet ready to declare victory, adding: "I'm hopeful. We'll see what happens."
 
Republican opponents of the accord sharply criticized Obama and his administration, saying they had negotiated a bad treaty that let Russia limit U.S. missile defense options when the real strategic threat was not Moscow but states like North Korea and Iran.
 
"We're giving the Russians a veto because I cannot imagine this president taking it to the limit with the Russians," Senator Lindsey Graham told a news conference. "Nothing that he has done has convinced me that he is committed to missile defense."
 
Political analysts say Senate rejection of the treaty would be a major setback to warming ties between the two countries, leading the Kremlin to question Obama's ability to deliver on major bilateral issues and giving ammunition to Russian hawks who oppose the thaw in relations with Washington.
 
Collapse of the pact would also inflict political damage on Medvedev, who has embraced Obama's efforts to improve relations and stepped up Russian support for U.S. efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program.
 
The treaty is widely supported in U.S. military and diplomatic circles. All former Republican secretaries of state have endorsed it, as have Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the top U.S. uniformed military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
 
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been phoning senators to try to work through their concerns and lock in their support.
 
There has been far less public or political debate over the treaty in Russia. The Russian State Duma has yet to approve the accord and Medvedev has made clear that parliament should not ratify the treaty until U.S. Senate approval is certain.
 
Konstantin Kosachyov, the pro-Kremlin chairman of the international affairs committee, said Russian lawmakers would carefully examine the U.S. Senate's resolution of ratification and other declarations before proceeding with their own vote, which could conceivably be held this year.
 

 

Date created : 2010-12-21

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