- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Senate may start debate this week on a key arms-control treaty the Obama administration has made the centerpiece of its “reset” of relations with Russia.

“We’re going to move as soon as we can to the START treaty,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The decision to bring up the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in the closing days of the 111th Congress is in some ways a gamble for Democrats if they do not have enough Republicans to ratify the treaty with 67 votes, as required by the Constitution.

When asked about the plan to schedule a vote on the treaty, Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and minority whip, said he would discourage the Democrats from bringing it up.

“You’re playing Russian roulette here, because really there’s only one vote that counts, and that’s final passage,” Mr. Kyl said.

If the New START is voted down, it could trigger a reaction in Moscow to reject ratification of the treaty as well.

Mr. Kyl has been the point man for Senate Republicans on START, but to date he has not said whether he would support or oppose the treaty, only that he opposes voting on the treaty in the lame-duck session.

In recent days, some Republicans, like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, have indicated they would be willing to vote for the treaty in the lame-duck session.

Democratic aides have said debate on the treaty is on the executive calendar this week, meaning the Senate will be able to move back and forth to debate both a budgetary continuing resolution and the treaty.

When asked Tuesday about Mr. Reid’s prediction that the votes are there among Republicans to pass the treaty with a two-thirds majority, Mr. Kyl was coy. “I will resist the temptation to go over the record of things where the majority leader perhaps predicted something prematurely. Let’s just put it that way,” he said.

While the aims of New START are modest reductions in the strategic or nuclear arsenal for the U.S. and Russia, the pact also has been the subject of heated partisan debate.

Opponents of the treaty — like Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — argue that the treaty’s focus on warheads instead of launching devices makes it impossible to verify that the Russians are keeping their end of the bargain.

Other critics, among them a group of Reagan-era defense officials who issued a public letter on Monday, argue the reductions would give Russia a nuclear advantage over the United States when tactical nuclear weapons — which are not covered in the treaty — are taken into account.

The White House has mustered impressive support, even among Republicans: five former Republican secretaries of state and the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana.

The argument from Democrats is that the treaty restores on-site inspections that expired a year ago with the expiration of the old START and paves the way for future arms-control agreements with Russia.

One concern for Republicans is that the treaty would be used in the future by the Obama administration to hinder missile defense.

The preamble of the New START links strategic offensive and defensive arms, and the text prevents using old offensive-missile silos for anti-missile interceptors.

Russia also issued a statement saying it would withdraw from the treaty if the U.S. expands its missile defenses, something treaty critics have said could constrain future missile-defense programs.

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