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Obama urges GOP to vote for START

Senators hold closed session

- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2010

President Obama and senior administration officials pressed Republican senators on Monday in a last-ditch effort to win Senate ratification of an arms- control treaty with Russia in the closing days of the lame-duck session.

Senators held a rare closed session on Monday to discuss secret assessments of the verification and other provisions of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The Office of the Director of National Intelligence earlier this month produced a new National Intelligence Estimate, a major assessment, on the treaty.

Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton telephoned numerous Republicans in an effort to persuade them to vote for START ratification.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, on Monday made public a letter from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlining military services chiefs' support for the accord. "This treaty has the full support of your uniformed military, and we all support ratification," Adm. Mullen stated.

It is not clear whether Democrats have the nine Republican votes they will need to ratify START by a two-thirds majority, but they appear to be gaining ground.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, had told him he will vote to approve the treaty.

Other Republicans likely voting for the treaty include Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican; Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican; and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican. Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, also said he would vote for the treaty this week.

Over the weekend however, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he is opposing the treaty in the current session after he had voted to go ahead with debate in the lame-duck session that initially led many Democrats to consider him a likely yes vote on START.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who also supported taking up the treaty during the lame-duck session, on Monday introduced an amendment that is likely to frustrate White House plans for a separate missile defense accord with Russia currently being contemplated by the administration.

The proposed McCain amendment would change the Senate's ratification legislation rather than the treaty preamble or text.

In Moscow on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Interfax news agency that any amendment to the preamble or the treaty itself would kill the agreement. "It cannot be opened up and become the subject of new negotiations," he said.

The McCain amendment, however, would unilaterally bar the United States from sharing test data known as telemetry from missile-defense interceptors with Russia during the 10-year period of START.

The Obama administration said a recent NATO summit in Lisbon was a breakthrough in talks with Moscow on future cooperation on missile defenses.

Following the closed session, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said: "The Russians have indicated the treaty would not be renegotiated, without the treaty we go blind."

Mrs. Feinstein was referring to the 18 on-site inspections per year allowed under START. U.S. inspectors have not been allowed to visit Russian sites for more than a year after the old treaty expired on Dec. 5, 2009.

However, a State Department report on arms-compliance issues made public in July revealed that Russia violated some provisions of the old START treaty until it expired.

On Monday evening, the Senate voted down two treaty amendments, one to increase inspections and another to add 20 more missiles or bombers.

Adm. Mullen in his letter stated that he was satisfied with the inspection and verification regime in New START.

However, the letter acknowledged that the treaty would impose some limits on the Pentagon's new conventional prompt global strike weapons by counting long-range missiles that would be armed with conventional warheads as limited under the treaty. The Pentagon currently plans to use new glide vehicles for its conventional long-range attack weapons and not strategic missiles.

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