- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2010

Calling it a “national security imperative,” President Obama on Thursday urged senators to quickly ratify a nuclear arms treaty with Russia before adjourning for the holidays.

In a bid to ratchet up the public pressure on lawmakers, Mr. Obama convened a bipartisan meeting of former secretaries of state and defense at the White House on the START treaty, which would reduce the arsenals of both the U.S. and Russia.

“There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress,” Mr. Obama declared, noting that the agreement would also put back into place a verification regime that ended when the previous treaty expired. “We cannot afford to gamble on our ability to verify Russia’s strategic nuclear arms.”

Mr. Obama has pushed hard for approval, even as a key Republican senator this week said lame-duck lawmakers should not consider the deal. Sixty-seven senators must sign off for a treaty to be ratified.

Both the president and other members of the administration have expressed confidence that the new START treaty, like its predecessors, would enjoy strong bipartisan support and win approval in Congress. But the future of the deal, at least in the near term, was thrown into doubt this week when Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona came out against taking it up during the lame-duck session of Congress, calling for more money to modernize the current U.S. arsenal.

Mr. Obama nevertheless told reporters Thursday that he’s “confident we can get the votes,” even if it means he has to support $80 billion to upgrade the nation’s nuclear stockpile over the next decade to get them.

He noted that Russia’s support was key earlier this year in clinching a new round of sanctions against Iran, which has flouted international weapons inspectors, fueling suspicions that it’s focused on developing a weapon as opposed to a civilian nuclear program.

“The key point here is this is not about politics [-] it’s about national security,” Mr. Obama said. “This is not a matter that can be delayed. Every month that goes by without a treaty means that we are not able to verify what’s going on on the ground in Russia. And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America’s national security will be weakened.”

Those attending Thursday’s meeting were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright, James Baker and Henry Kissinger, former defense secretaries William Cohen and William Perry and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.