Senate Foreign Relations committee is expected to approve START resolution

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 7:17 PM

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve a resolution of ratification for the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on Thursday, according to congressional and administration sources.

The resolution is based on a draft by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and will have the support of Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and other Democrats, the sources say.

The resolution is the means by which the Senate traditionally lays out its concerns and understandings about treaty language and sets out its interpretations without changing the actual text of the pact, which was signed in April by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Lugar's draft is expected to be approved at Thursday's markup session as a substitute for one that Kerry circulated two weeks ago. The committee would still have to deal with amendments, even after adopting the draft. More than 15 amendments, almost all from GOP members, have been sent to Kerry but committee sources said the hope is that some will be worked into the resolution, possibly garnering additional GOP support.

In a breakthrough Tuesday, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) became the first Republican on the panel to say he would support Lugar's resolution.

Corker, who has been the focus of pro-treaty lobbying, said: "If Senator Lugar's resolution is adopted in its entirety on Thursday and is not weakened through amendments, I will vote it out of committee."

Said one congressional source: "With Corker as well as Lugar aboard, we will be able to claim bipartisan support for the pact." He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the ongoing negotiations.

Lugar's draft attempted to deal with frequently stated GOP concerns about the treaty. Among other issues, lawmakers were seeking long-term commitments to rebuild the aging U.S. nuclear weapons complex and to maintain the reliability of the nuclear stockpile as the number of weapons declines.

One Lugar solution is to require a president to report to Congress if projected future funding falls below needs. Lugar included a reference to a possible withdrawal from the treaty if the lack of money threatens U.S. security.

Lugar also dealt with GOP worries that the treaty inhibits U.S. missile defense programs. He makes clear that it doesn't and that the Bilateral Consultative Commission, set up to handle issues raised by terms of the treaty, cannot deal with missile defense issues.

On the continuing issue of Russia's overwhelming number of tactical nuclear weapons compared with those of the United States, Lugar said the two nations should work together to determine the number of weapons on both sides and cooperate in securing them from possible theft.

The draft also protects the United States' ability to develop Prompt Global Strike, a land-based or submarine-launched system designed to use intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads rather than nuclear.

Committee passage of the ratification resolution does not guarantee that the Senate will take up the treaty this year.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company