- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama will push for Senate ratification of a nuclear arms pact with Russia before year-end despite opposition from a key Republican senator, the White House said Wednesday.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he believes the New START deal will come up and pass during the lame-duck Congress, now in progress.

The pact is a top foreign policy priority for Mr. Obama. It would shrink the U.S. and Russian arsenals of strategic warheads, and revive on-the-ground inspections that ceased when a previous treaty expired nearly a year ago.

Sen. Jon Kyl, a leading Republican voice on the issue, dealt the pact a major setback Tuesday by coming out against a vote this year. Mr. Kyl, who’s been seeking more money and focus on maintaining and modernizing the remaining arsenal, said more time was needed before moving forward.

When pressed on the issue Wednesday, Mr. Kyl told reporters: “We’re talking in good faith.”

The treaty has support from some moderate Republicans, but Mr. Kyl’s opposition makes approval a tough climb since many in the GOP were looking to his assent before giving their backing. Sixty-seven votes are needed for approval, so Democrats need at least eight Republican votes for ratification in the current Senate.

Once the newly elected Senate is sworn in January, Democrats need the support of at least 14 Republicans.

“The president will continue to push this and believes the Senate should act on it before they go home,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

“I think we’ll have enough votes to pass it” even without Mr. Kyl’s support, Mr. Gibbs said, calling it crucial to the nuclear inspection regime and international relations.

“I don’t think it’s going to get pushed into next year,” he said.

But the administration’s hopes suffered another hit when Republican Sen. George Voinovich, an Ohio moderate who is retiring this year, expressed his reservations with the treaty.

“America’s grand strategy approach towards Russia must be realistic, it must be agile, and as I have said it must take into account the interests of our NATO allies. I am deeply concerned the New START Treaty may once again undermine the confidence of our friends and allies in Central and Eastern Europe,” Mr. Voinovich said in a statement.

A clearly frustrated Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and a treaty supporter, suggested the administration press ahead with a vote despite the opposition of Mr. Kyl and others. Mr. Lugar, a leading voice on nuclear issues, said if the White House and Democrats wait until next year and the new Congress, the process would have to start anew with hearings, committee votes and a greater risk that the treaty isn’t ratified.

“This is a situation of some national security peril,” Mr. Lugar told reporters.

Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the pact in Prague in April. Mr. Obama met with Mr. Medvedev last weekend on the sidelines of an economic meeting in Japan and emphasized his commitment to advancing the treaty during the lame-duck session.

The treaty would reduce U.S. and Russian strategic warheads to 1,550 for each country from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would set up new procedures to allow both countries to inspect each other’s arsenals to verify compliance.

Sen. John Kerry, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there were no substantive disagreements on the treaty itself and that a major objection of Mr. Kyl’s should have been removed when the administration pledged an additional $4.1 billion for weapons modernization programs.

Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the Senate to vote this year.

“This is not an issue that can afford to be postponed,” the secretary said after the meeting.

In Moscow Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said officials there still expect the Senate to find time for ratifying the treaty this fall.

“We have taken note of Senator Kyl’s comment. It’s not our business to interfere in the procedure of agenda agreement and the Senate’s work,” Ryabkov said. “I would like to remind you that the Russian leadership’s line that the ratification processes in Russia and the U.S. should be synchronized remains fully valid.”

Republicans have argued that the treaty would limit U.S. missile defense options and does not provide adequate procedures to verify that Russia is living up to its terms.

Associated Press Writer Erica Werner contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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