Kyl Joins Republicans Opening Up to Passage of Nuclear Treaty With Russia

Arizona Senator Jon Kyl became the latest Republican to show a willingness to support a new arms control treaty with Russia by the end of the year even as his party vowed to block nearly all business in the chamber.

“If we can get this tax issue done and get the spending for the government accomplished, then there might be time to do it,” Kyl said on Fox News Channel’s “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” program yesterday.

Republican leaders have stalled consideration of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, vowing to block passage of all bills until Congress takes up legislation extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and passes a stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government operating until appropriations measures for fiscal year 2011 are enacted.

Kyl, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, cited on Nov. 16 “complex and unresolved” issues for why the new START would be unlikely to pass in the current lame-duck session. Since then, Republicans have come forward and indicated that they would be open to support the nuclear agreement once their tax and spending priorities were addressed.

“Everything is going in a very constructive way,” Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters. “We still have the details to be worked out but they are being worked on” and “there is a real possibility as to it happening this year.”

Senate approval of a resolution supporting ratification of the accord would award a significant victory to President Barack Obama, who considers the treaty the top foreign policy priority of his administration for this congressional session.

‘Open To It’

“I’m open to it,” Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said in an interview. “The administration has made some important steps in the right direction” toward resolving Republican concerns, he said.

“It’s a two-step process: We do taxes and then we do START,” said Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The START agreement, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, would cut each country’s deployed nuclear warheads by about a third, to a maximum of 1,550, and would allow both nations to resume on-site inspections. The previous treaty expired in December 2009.

Several Republicans indicated this week that talks were progressing.

Robert Bennett of Utah, who is retiring at the end of the year, said he wanted to see what “wrangling” over the ratification resolution produced before saying how he would vote. Still, he described himself as “generally disposed to” approving ratification of the treaty.

‘Move Forward’

“I believe we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Senator Kyl’s concerns and mine about missile defense and others,” Senator John McCain of Arizona said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program.

Two-thirds of the senators present and voting are needed to approve ratification. If all 100 senators are in the chamber, nine Republicans would have to join with Democrats to reach 67 votes. Three Republicans supported the treaty in a Sept. 16 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So far, only Lugar has said he would definitely support the treaty in the full Senate.

Ratification of each of the last three arms-reduction treaties was approved with more than 90 votes.

Democrats suggested yesterday that the treaty’s chances for ratification in the next month were improving. “The START treaty will be done by Christmas,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on CBS’s “Early Show.”

Colin Powell’s Support

Obama urged passage of the treaty after a Dec. 1 meeting with Colin Powell, former secretary of state under President George W. Bush and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Now it’s time to get this done,” the president 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.”

In recent weeks, the White House has brought in officials from previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, to endorse the pact. 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.

‘Compelling Reasons’

In an opinion article in yesterday’s Washington Post, Powell, Baker, Kissinger and two other Republican secretaries of state -- George P. Schultz, who served under President Ronald Reagan, and Lawrence Eagleburger, who also worked for President George H.W. Bush -- wrote there are “compelling reasons” for their party to approve ratification.

Russia plans to build up its nuclear forces if the U.S. fails to ratify the treaty, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live” two days ago.

“Russia will have to ensure her own security through different means” if its proposals are “met with negative answers only,” Putin said. The U.S. and Russia must “agree on a joint effort.”

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Democrats were eager to approve ratification.

“There’s a very vocal group of senators who believe this needs to be taken up now,” Kerry told reporters Nov. 30. “What we need to do is carve out space to get it done even as we do some of the other business.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net; James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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