President Obama is pressing for the ratification of an arms control treaty with Russia when the Senate returns for a lame-duck session on Nov. 15.
“This is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue, but rather an issue of American national security,” Mr. Obama said Thursday at the beginning of a Cabinet meeting, referring to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).
“I’m hopeful that we can get that done … and send a strong signal to Russia that we’re serious about reducing nuclear arsenals, but also send a signal to the world that we’re serious about nonproliferation.”
The president made the remarks two days after midterm elections in which the GOP won control of the House and made gains in the Senate, where New START has been scrutinized and criticized by some Republicans.
Reports say Russia’s Duma has withdrawn its recommendation to approve the treaty in light of Republican victories on Tuesday.
The treaty has received support from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Both men have argued that the treaty is vital because it will close the “verification gap” and return U.S. personnel to Russian missile sites.
Other Republicans, however, have raised concerns about the treaty. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona has indicated that his support would depend on Mr. Obama’s budget commitments to modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The treaty will need at least 67 votes for ratification, putting a premium on Republican support for a pact that the Obama administration has said is a centerpiece of its “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has said he is following Mr. Kyl’s and Mr. Lugar’s lead. “Senator McConnell looks to our leaders on this issue, Senators Lugar and Kyl, for guidance on proceeding on the treaty,” McConnell communications director Don Stewart said in an e-mail.
Before New START was passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 16, Sen. Jim Risch, Idaho Republican, tried to stop the vote. He said new intelligence that he could not discuss in open session made him question Russian intentions.
The night before the vote, Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a classified letter to the chairman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee laying out objections to the treaty’s verification mechanisms.
However, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said there are no good reasons to vote against New START.
“At this point, there is no substantive reason for the Senate to dilly-dally on New START,” he said. “Senators have all the information and time necessary to decide. President Obama is clearly ready to work with Senate leaders to put U.S. national security first by acting to approve New START this year and not delaying it until next year.”
Mr. Kimball predicted that the vote would “very likely win well over the 67 votes that are needed for ratification” in a lame-duck session.
But John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said Republicans should wait.
“There should be no rush on this treaty,” he said. “If it is so self-evidently wonderful, there is still time for the administration to answer the outstanding questions Republicans have.”
Those questions, Mr. Bolton said, include how the treaty would affect missile defense.
The State Department has insisted that the treaty would have no bearing on U.S. missile defense, but Republicans have raised concerns that the preamble language appears to give Russia the option to withdraw from the treaty over missile defense.
“The fact is the treaty is badly flawed and the administration knows it does not have good answers. That is why it is adopting a ram-and-jam strategy,” Mr. Bolton said. “Republicans need to insist, as a party matter apart from the substance of the treaty, they simply do not accept it.”