- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama turned to former Secretary of State Colin Powell for help Wednesday in getting a stalled nuclear weapons treaty with Russia through the Senate.

Mr. Obama invited Mr. Powell, a retired four-star Army general and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, to the White House a day after stressing the need for the Senate to ratify the New START nuclear pact by the end of the year.

However, one top Republican said Mr. Powell’s endorsement was unlikely to sway him to vote for the treaty.

“I respect Secretary Powell a lot, but this is a matter of us doing our job, doing our due diligence,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, whose vote on the treaty would be critical for the White House, said Mr. Powell’s endorsement didn’t come as a surprise.

Mr. Powell, who served as secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, endorsed Mr. Obama in the presidential election over Mr. McCain.

The president has said the treaty is crucial to U.S. national security, and he appealed anew for its approval Tuesday in a meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders. But leading Republican lawmakers argue that there are more pressing priorities to address during the lame-duck session of Congress, and the GOP has threatened to block any Senate floor business other than budgetary or tax issues during the session.

However, some Republicans appear to be leaving the door open for ratification, indicating that the administration has addressed some of their concerns, including several matters raised by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, about modernization of the remaining nuclear arsenal and sufficient funds for safeguarding the stockpile.

A pledge by Senate Republicans on Wednesday to thwart action on all legislation until lawmakers vote to fund the government and prevent looming tax increases technically does not apply to the START. Treaties have special status, and Republicans can’t block Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, from bringing START to the floor.

The pact would reduce the limits on strategic warheads held by the United States and Russia and would set up a system so each could inspect and verify the other’s arsenal.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned that his country would build up its nuclear forces if the United States doesn’t ratify the treaty.

In an interview to be broadcast Wednesday on CNN, Mr. Putin said that if the treaty isn’t ratified, “we’ll have to react somehow,” including deploying new nuclear technology. Mr. Putin said it would take “a very dumb nature” for lawmakers to block the treaty.

Mr. Powell is the latest in a string of current and former national security officials brought in to bolster the need to ratify the treaty.

Last month, Mr. Obama met at the White House with what he called “some of the most able statesmen from both parties” to voice their support for START. They included former Secretaries of State Madeleine K. Albright, James Baker III and Henry Kissinger; former Defense Secretaries William Perry and William S. Cohen; and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

During a NATO summit in Portugal, Mr. Obama also secured the backing of several Eastern European nations, which appeased some GOP senators, including Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, who had said he was concerned the treaty would undermine the confidence of allies in Central and Eastern Europe.

The White House said Mr. Obama and Mr. Powell also would discuss education and efforts to reduce the high school dropout rate, an issue with which Mr. Powell has been actively involved since leaving the government.

Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

 

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