Obama pushes for Senate vote on new arms treaty with Russia

A stern President Barack Obama says it is a 'national security imperative' for the Senate to ratify a pending nuclear arms treaty with Russia before ending its work this year.
By Mary Beth Sheridan, Walter Pincus and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 12:24 PM

President Obama pushed Thursday for ratification of a nuclear-arms treaty with Moscow by year's end despite Republican opposition, calling the pact a "national security imperative" and warning that delaying it would weaken the United States.

He said he was "confident" that the treaty could attract enough votes in the Senate, where GOP reservations have set up a political clash over a pact that the administration sees as crucial for U.S. foreign policy.

"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year," Obama said during a bipartisan White House meeting on the issue. "There is no higher national security priority" for the current lame-duck Senate session. He warned that without a treaty, it would be impossible to verify reductions in Russia's nuclear arsenal.

"This New START treaty is completely in line with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on this issue," Obama said. "This is not about politics. It's about national security. This is not a matter than can be delayed."

He said that "if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America's national security will be weakened."

Asked whether the pact could get the needed two-thirds Senate vote for ratification, Obama said: "I'm confident that we should be able to get the votes." He said previous such treaties have been ratified with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The administration signaled that it would not be discouraged after the second-ranking Senate Republican, Jon Kyl (Ariz.), said that a deal didn't seem possible in the lame-duck session.

"The president and the administration will push forward on having the Senate ratify the START treaty before the end of the year," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday.

Asked if there were enough votes, even without Kyl, to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Gibbs said, "We think we'll get them."

The administration has been eager to lock in the treaty before next year, when it will require 14 Republican votes to pass, rather than nine now. The pact needs 67 votes to be ratified.

In an effort to signal bipartisan support for the treaty, Vice President Biden hosted a White House meeting Thursday morning with current and former high-ranking officials who support the pact, including several Republicans. Among those attending were former secretaries of state Madeleine K. Albright, James A. Baker III and Henry A. Kissinger; former defense secretaries William S. Cohen and William J. Perry; and Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser. Baker, Kissinger and Cohen are Republicans. Scowcroft served in four Republican administrations.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also attended the meeting. Other participants included Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican on the committee; Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

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