- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Senate Republicans are calling for a deliberate review of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) before a formal vote on ratification of the U.S.-Russian agreement.

“There is no need for the Senate to rush one of its most solemn constitutional duties in deciding whether to give its consent to an arms control treaty,” a Republican Policy Committee report said.

“This treaty raises many questions striking at the heart of U.S. national security,” said the report, a reflection of Senate Republican leadership views. “The Senate must be given appropriate time to work through these questions.”

Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican and chairman of the policy committee, said in an interview that the Senate’s Democratic leaders have not stated a timetable for a ratification vote.

White House officials have said they hope to win ratification before the end of the year. Some Republicans say that would put a vote on the treaty before November and give Democrats a political tool for what are expected to be contentious elections.

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee spokeswoman had no immediate comment on a ratification schedule. Senate Democratic aides have said the committee hopes to have a vote by the August recess, with a full Senate vote as early as the fall.

Mr. Thune made clear that there will be no rush for a vote. “Any suggestion that this should be rushed would be ill-founded,” he said. “The bottom line is that the Senate needs to be given appropriate time to complete its work.”

Mr. Thune said the treaty raises issues that must be addressed before it is ratified, including a lack of specificity in the Obama administration’s plan under the 2010 defense authorization to fund and authorize a modernization program for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Additionally, Republicans want answers about the START impact on missile defenses, treaty verification and tactical nuclear weapons.

Mr. Thune dismissed anticipated charges by Democrats that Republicans will try to obstruct ratification. “We take very seriously the constitutional duty that we have to evaluate the merits of a treaty like this independently,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the first hearing on the issue Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of ratification.

Mr. Gates defended the treaty from statements by Russian government officials who have said Moscow will withdraw from the pact if the Pentagon moves ahead with more missile defenses.

Russian objections to U.S. missile defenses go back decades, Mr. Gates said. “The Russians have hated missile defense ever since the strategic arms talks began in 1969,” he said. “It’s the latest chapter in a long line of Russian objections to our proceeding with missile defense and, frankly, I think it’s because … we can afford it and they can’t.”

Mr. Gates said the U.S. is continuing deployments of missile defenses and will not be constrained by the treaty.

He said of Moscow’s treaty withdrawal threat that “the Russians can say what they want” but their unilateral statements are not codified in the treaty and thus “have no standing.”

On treaty verification, Mr. Gates said U.S. intelligence agencies are “likely” to express “high confidence in their ability to monitor [compliance with] this treaty.”

However, the Republican Policy Committee report said annual State Department reports on Russian compliance with arms treaties have not been sent to Congress for five years and that the administration appears to be withholding them because they reveal Moscow’s past treaty violations.

While the Obama administration has said START has no provisions limiting missile defenses, one provision states that both sides are prohibited from using offensive missile silos for defensive anti-missile interceptors, a direct limit on such defenses.

The treaty, dubbed “New START,” replaces an expired 1991 treaty. If ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, it would limit U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads, a reduction of 650 warheads from current levels. It also would limit delivery systems to 600 to 700 missiles and bombers.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the treaty will strengthen “stability and predictability” in U.S.-Russian relations.

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