START loses key GOP support
Key Senate Republicans on Sunday announced that they do not support ratification of a U.S.-Russia arms control treaty, upsetting White House plans to win passage of the pact during the lame-duck session of the Senate.
Despite these statements, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senate Democratic leaders said they have the 67 votes needed to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid set the key test, ending debate and proceeding to a vote, for Tuesday.
On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said they will not be voting to approve the U.S.-Russia arms treaty in the final days of the 111th Congress.
Both lawmakers had said before that they were open to supporting treaty ratification.
The Republicans made their statements after the defeat Saturday of a treaty amendment offered by Mr. Graham’s close ally Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. The McCain amendment - which would have stricken language from the treaty’s preamble linking defensive and offensive missile systems - failed by a vote of 59-37.
Republicans also failed Sunday to attach an amendment that sought to link strategic and tactical nuclear weapons in the treaty’s preamble. Strategic weapons are those that can hit the United States from Russia; tactical nuclear weapons are considered battlefield weapons.
Democrats argue that any change to the preamble, no matter how small, will reopen negotiations with Russia and effectively kill the treaty.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “If we don’t pass the START treaty, if we can’t reach a bilateral agreement on the reduction of strategic weapons, there will be no discussion about tactical weapons. That’s as plain as day.”
Republicans have complained that New START does not limit tactical nuclear weapons that when counted with the Russian strategic arsenal gives Moscow many more nuclear weapons than the United States.
President Obama has made New START, which would require Russia and the United States to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads for each side, a top priority in the lame-duck session.
Republicans have argued that Russian statements threatening to withdraw from the treaty if the United States expands current missile defenses will be used by the Obama administration to scuttle missile-defense plans.
The White House has rallied support for New START from former Republican secretaries of state and secretaries of defense. Mr. Obama has said the treaty is the centerpiece of his diplomatic reset with Russia.
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