Administration hunts for GOP votes needed to approve arms pact

By Walter Pincus and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 27, 2010; 7:33 PM

While trying to satisfy a lawmaker's concerns, the Obama administration is working around Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in an attempt to gather the nine Republican votes needed to pass the ratification resolution for the strategic arms treaty with Russia this year.

Kyl, who has acted as the Republican negotiator on the issue, surprised the administration recently by saying the lame-duck session did not allow enough time to debate the treaty.

Then last week he circulated a memo asking for guarantees that future presidents and congresses will allocate funds for upgrades of nuclear weapons facilities, something administration officials say cannot be done.

President Obama and his top aides have said they think Kyl is sincere in his concerns, but they also say they have been talking independently with other Republicans about the treaty.

Some of the Republican senators who seem most likely to vote for the New START pact say that Obama must do more to build public support if the document is to be ratified before a new Congress is sworn in.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has reserved judgment on how she will vote until the resolution comes to the floor, said it could make a difference if Obama could get George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, both former presidents, to appear with him in support of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START.

Neither Bush has taken a public position on the pact, which would continue trends they established with the original START agreement signed in 1991 by the elder Bush and the Moscow Treaty approved by the younger Bush in 2002.

The New START treaty continues most verification procedures established in the 1991 agreement that ended last December while adding new ones; it also lowers slightly to 1,550 the deployed warheads allowed under the 2002 pact, which were 1,700 to 2,200.

"It would be wonderful if President [George H.W.] Bush would come out for the treaty. That would be so powerful and definitely help," Collins said in a telephone interview last week.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the leading GOP member supporting the treaty, has suggested that the administration employ the same tactics President Bill Clinton employed in getting Senate approval for ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. At that time, former president George H.W. Bush, whose administration had signed the convention, publicly urged senators to vote for it at a news conference with Madeleine Albright, Clinton's secretary of state.

"The Clinton administration set up a war room, in a sense, in the Capitol, where we had a team of people who spent all their time slapping down all the arguments against the treaty, coming up with floor statements, organizing the proponents against the opponents," said Mark Helmke, a senior adviser to Lugar. "We've been telling the administration all along you have to do all this."

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