US Senate advances nuclear pact with Russia

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WASHINGTON - The US Senate voted Tuesday to advance a nuclear arms pact with Russia, setting up a final vote to ratify the treaty, which requires the two countries to reduce their deployed nuclear warheads.

The senate voted 67-28 to end nearly a week of debate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, and bring it to the floor for final ratification, which could take place Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.

President Barack Obama and Democrats are confident they have the support of two-thirds of the Senate - 67 votes in the 100-seat chamber - the threshold required under the Constitution to ratify treaties. The treaty gained the support of several key Republicans in the last several days.

Reaching the 67-vote benchmark is a strong sign the treaty will get final ratification Thursday, and fulfils Obama’s goal of getting it passed by the end of the year.

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty in April.

New START requires the countries to cut their active nuclear warheads to 1,550 within seven years and replaces a 1991 treaty that expired in December 2009. Once in effect, New START will allow both countries to resume critical inspections of the other’s nuclear arsenals and activities.

New START is expected to easily get the green light of the Russian Duma. Russian lawmakers said they would wait to vote until a final outcome in the Senate is complete.

Prospects for US approval improved in recent weeks when several Republican moderates pledged to back the accord. Conservative Republicans threatened to derail the treaty, accusing the White House and Democrats of rushing it through without giving lawmakers enough time to study its complexities.

The White House pointed out that the months since the treaty was signed and held numerous hearings to examine New START. Obama has identified New START as a top priority and urged the Senate to ratify by the end of the year.

Conservative Republicans had expressed concerns that the pact could limit the development of missile defence, and also wanted the treaty to address Russia’s advantage in numbers of battlefield - or tactical - nuclear arms.

But the Democrats easily defeated Republican amendments to the treaty over the weekend and Monday, which would have changed the text of the treaty. The revisions would have effectively killed the treaty, sending it back into negotiations with Moscow.

Obama and the Democrats flatly rejected Republican claims that the treaty could be used to limit missile defence. Obama sent a letter to the Republican leadership Saturday saying he will continue to develop and deploy missile defence systems.

Democrats control 58 Senate seats compared to 42 Republicans, but that majority will shrink to 53 Democrat’s with January’s swearing in of the next Congress, making New START’s approval more challenging and adding to the sense of urgency to hold a final vote before Congress breaks for holiday recess.

Prominent officials from Republican administrations, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Colin Powell, as well as former president George H.W. Bush, have urged the Senate to adopt New START.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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