Ex-Eastern Bloc nations tell U.S. Senate to ratify New START

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010; 2:17 PM

LISBON - Nations on the front lines of the old Cold War divide made clear here Saturday that they want the Senate to ratify the new U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty, and said that Republican concerns about their well-being were misplaced.

In an unannounced group appearance at the end of an administration background briefing on Afghanistan, six European foreign ministers took the stage with a message for Congress.

"Don't stop START before it's started," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov said.

Conservative Republican senators have said the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, signed early last year, needs more work and have rejected the administration's hopes of bringing it to a vote in the lame duck session before the end of the year.

The ministers insisted that Obama administration officials, some of whom stood at the back of the room as they spoke, did not put them up to the appeal. All are here participating in the NATO summit.

"I'm the one who initiated this initiative," Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said. The idea, she said, was to "at least make the Republican Party [aware] of how important this is."

In addition to being her country's foreign minister, Espersen said with some indignation, "I'm also the chairman of the Conservative Party of Denmark. Nobody can ever accuse me of being soft on security."

"We're all conservatives," Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi added.

Denmark and Norway, whose minister also appeared, are longtime members of NATO. But the rest of the group - from Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Hungary and Bulgaria - were part of the former Soviet Union and are relatively new NATO members.

Some Republican opponents of ratification have suggested that nations once under the Soviet thumb are worried that President Obama has sold out to the Russians with a treaty that could endanger them.

"My country has a very special experience with Russia, and also a special geographic location," Hungary's Martonyi said. "We advocate ratification of START. It is in the interest of my nation, of Europe and most importantly for the trans-Atlantic alliance."

Audronius Azubalis, the Lithuanian minister, said his country saw the START treaty as a necessary "prologue, an entrance" to discussions with Russia about other forms of nuclear arms in the region "that are much more dangerous - we who are living in Eastern Europe know this."

The ministers also emphasized that their support for START is coupled with their support for the alliance and for Obama. "I want to underline that NATO Atlantic cooperation is very important for the security of my state," Latvian Foreign Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said. "START treaty ratification in Congress we support very strongly and also the policy of President Obama and his administration is very important for the security of our region."

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