GOP senators vote to clear New START pact hurdle

At least nine set to break ranks, vote for arms treaty with Russia

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The Senate minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and the minority whip, Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, announced over the weekend that they would oppose ratification.

Mr. Kyl, who was leading the debate for Republicans on START, voiced particular concerns Tuesday that there was not enough time during the lame-duck session to fully debate the treaty.

“All of these interruptions and the season have resulted in a situation in which very few members are paying much attention, very few are on the floor really thinking about this, and, frankly, the other side does not have an open mind about accepting anything,” Mr. Kyl said.

He offered earlier this month to take up the START debate at the end of January with an eye to a vote on Feb. 5. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, rejected the offer.

Mr. Kyl until this past weekend would not say how he planned to vote on the treaty. Instead, he worked with the Obama administration to win support for a 10-year, $85 billion plan to upgrade the aging U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal and the labs that maintain them.

The administration also made commitments in recent days that the treaty would not constrain U.S. plans to develop a European-based “phased adaptive approach” to missile defense for the United States and Europe. In a letter shared with Senate leaders, Mr. Obama pledged to “take every action available to me to support the deployment of all four phases” of U.S. missile-defense plans.

The letter from Mr. Obama, however, was not enough for Mr. Kyl, who said he wanted a commitment from Russia’s leaders that they would not try to withdraw from the treaty if the United States moved forward with the missile-defense plans.

Russia’s government has made a unilateral statement outside the formal treaty that it will pull out of the accord if U.S. missile defenses expand.

“Beyond what the Republicans explicitly got, the administration is going to have difficulty in the next Congress doing anything without the Republicans,” said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.

“That empowers the Republicans, if they choose, to add to the president’s agenda proliferation and strategic restraint initiatives of their own. I don’t know if they will do it, but it puts them in a position to do it. That is the silver lining.”

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