Obama enlists Powell’s support on New START

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama teamed up with retired general Colin Powell Wednesday to strengthen his case in pushing for the Senate to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Powell met with Obama at the White House later Wednesday to demonstate Republican support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, signed with Russia in April.

“I fully support this treaty and I hope that the Senate will give its advice and consent to the ratification of the treaty as soon as possible,” Powell said in a brief media appearance with Obama.

Powell is among a group of bipartisan former senior officials who have endorsed New START and urged the Senate to greenlight the treaty. Powell is a fomer chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as secretary of state under George W Bush. Several other former secretaries of state have voiced support for New START.

Obama Tuesday urged the Senate to approve the treaty by the end of this year, saying it is essential for US national security and his policy of resetting relations with Russia.

Echoing Obama, Powell said ratifying the pact was critical because it allows US officials to monitor Russia’s nuclear activities, a benefit that has been absent since New Start’s predecessor expired in December 2009.

Obama got a boost when John McCain, a leading Senate Republican on the issue, said he was confident the Senate could get to a vote before the current congressional term ends later this month. Sixty-seven votes are needed in the 100-seat Senate for ratification.

Obama has set New START ratification as a priority for the post-election session of Congress, but has encountered resistance from Republican Senator Jon Kyl, who wants greater assurances the White House is committed to modernizing US nuclear forces even as their numbers shrink.

New START would require Washington and Moscow to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear warheads to 1,550.

McCain has expressed reservations about the treaty over concerns it could limit efforts on constructing a missile-defence system, although the agreement places no limits on missile defence.

McCain said on ABC’s Good Morning America Tuesday that he was confident the concerns could be resolved and a vote could happen this year.

Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that Moscow would likely build up its nuclear forces if the US Senate failed to ratify the pact. In an interview with CNN set to air later Wednesday, Putin said: “We’ll have to react somehow.”

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START in Prague in April to replace the 1991 version.

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