- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

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

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said he thinks the New START deal will be put to a vote and pass while the lame-duck Congress is in session.

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 of Arizona, 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 has 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.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, issued a statement Wednesday supporting quick action on the treaty, saying he was “puzzled” by Mr. Kyl’s stance.

But the administration’s hopes suffered another hit when Sen. George V. Voinovich, a moderate Republican from Ohio 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 that the administration press ahead with a vote despite the opposition of Mr. Kyl and others. Mr. Lugar, a leading voice on nuclear issues, said that if the White House and congressional Democrats wait until next year when the Congress convenes, the process would have to start anew with hearings, committee votes and a greater risk that the treaty won’t be 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.

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