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Senate panel poised to approve nuclear treaty

- Associated Press - Thursday, September 16, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration was poised for a victory on one of its top foreign policy goals Thursday as a Senate panel appeared likely to recommend approval of a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control treaty with a bipartisan majority.

It was not clear that the administration has the votes or the time to get it to the Senate floor for ratification this year. Hopes for passage improved this week, however, as a second Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee looked likely to support it.

As he opened a meeting to consider the treaty, committee Chairman John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, cast the treaty as essential for U.S. national security. "The stakes are enormous," he said.

Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty in April. It would shrink the limit on strategic warheads to 1,550 for each country, down about a third from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would implement changes in current procedures that allow both countries to inspect each other's arsenals and verify compliance.

The treaty has faced Republican opposition, but it got a boost from a member of the committee, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, when he endorsed an amendment offered by the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, that was aimed at building Republican support for the treaty.

Some Republicans say the pact does not establish adequate procedures for making sure Russia abides by its terms. They also fear that Moscow could use the treaty to limit U.S. missile defense plans.

Many Republicans also are tying their support to assurances from the Obama administration that Democrats push for more money to maintain and improve existing nuclear warheads.

Democrats had earlier delayed a committee vote on the treaty as they sought broader support from Republican members to build momentum toward final ratification by the full Senate.

Delays in negotiating the treaty and moving toward ratification have pushed consideration into the political season ahead of November's congressional elections.

The White House and Democratic allies in Congress say there still is time to debate the treaty and hold a vote either before the elections or in the brief period after the elections and before newly elected lawmakers take office in January, known as the lame duck session.

The administration has held the treaty up as a signature success and a sign that its efforts to improve relations with Russia have borne fruit. Failure to ratify the treaty or a long delay would represent a foreign policy setback.

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