Obama to push for Senate vote on new arms pact with Russia

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 18, 2010

President Obama will push for ratification of a nuclear-arms treaty with Moscow by year's end despite Republican opposition, the White House said Wednesday, setting up a political clash over a pact that the administration sees as crucial for U.S. foreign policy.

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.

Asked if there were enough votes even without Kyl, 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.

Vice President Biden has called the treaty vital to U.S. security, since it allows the world's two nuclear giants to inspect each other's stockpiles and ensure there is no secret escalation. Officials say a failure to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty could deal a harsh setback to the "re-set" in relations with Russia, which has led to cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan.

A negative vote would also damage Obama's credibility internationally, analysts said.

"It's hard to do business with an administration that cannot fulfill its agreements," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, said in an interview in Moscow.

The New START will cut long-range deployed nuclear weapons on both sides by up to 30 percent. Kyl's main concern has been getting the administration to come up with a big enough budget to ensure maintenance of the weapons that will remain.

The Obama administration has so far offered $14 billion over what would have been the regular $70 billion nuclear modernization budget for the next decade.

Kyl and other key Republicans have indicated a deal could come together next year. But treaty supporters worry that if the vote is put off, it might not be rescheduled for months.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the strongest Republican supporter of the treaty, lashed out at his party Wednesday.

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