Obama Confers With Powell in Bid to Push Russia Arms Pact Through Congress
President Barack Obama sought to keep pressure on the Senate to ratify a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, bringing former Secretary of State Colin Powell to the White House for a discussion about national security.
After their meeting in the Oval Office, both Obama and Powell told reporters that ratification of the treaty is necessary for the nation’s security and to maintain good relations with Russia.
“Now it’s time to get this done,” Obama said. “It is important for us to make sure we complete the evaluation process, we finish the debate and we go ahead and finish this up before the end of the year.”
Ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, has stalled in the Senate with Republicans saying there isn’t enough time before the end of the year to address all of their concerns about the accord while also working on extending Bush-era tax cuts and legislation to keep the government funded.
Obama praised Powell’s “unparalleled” experience in national security issues. Before serving as secretary of state for President George W. Bush, he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest military position.
Importance of Treaty
“Colin is one of a number of former national security advisers, secretaries of defense, secretaries of state, from both Democratic and Republican administrations that have emphasized how important it is to get this done,” Obama said. “He understands, as so many others understand, a world without binding U.S.-Russia arms control treaties is a more dangerous world.”
Last month, Obama met at the White House with James Baker, President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state; Henry Kissinger, secretary of state under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford; and Madeleine Albright, President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state.
The treaty limits each side’s strategic warheads to no more than 1,550, from 2,200 allowed previously, and sets a maximum of 800 land-, air- and sea-based launchers.
“The world has benefited by having fewer of these horrible weapons,” Powell said. “New START continues this process.”
Each of the last three arms-reduction treaties was ratified with more than 90 votes. The previous treaty expired in December.
Obama said that ratifying the treaty will improve U.S. relations with Russia that have already been bolstered by cooperation between the two nations on dealing with Iran and U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
Obama and Powell also said that a failure to ratify the treaty would hold up new verification procedures for the U.S. and Russia to monitor each other’s nuclear arsenals.
“When you have uncertainty in the area of nuclear weapons, that’s a much more dangerous world to live in,” Obama said.
Senator Mark Kirk, a newly elected Republican from Illinois, said there isn’t enough support for the treaty for it to be ratified. Ratification requires the votes of 67 Senators in the 100-member body.
Only two Republicans have publicly backed ratification. Democrats control the chamber 58-42.
“They don’t have the votes,” Kirk said.
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