Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said Congress has “no higher priority” than ratifying a stalled nuclear arms treaty with Russia before the end of the year.
“It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the new Start treaty this year,” Obama said today after a White House meeting with current and former top defense and foreign policy officials on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
He called the agreement a “cornerstone” of the U.S. relationship with Russia.
Obama has enlisted former advisers from Democratic and Republican administrations in his bid to keep up pressure on the Senate to ratify the treaty. Among them at today’s session were 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.
Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the accord in April. The president’s push for a vote suffered a setback this week when Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican and one of his party’s leading voices on nuclear-weapons policy, said the issues are too complex to resolve by year’s end.
Postponing consideration of the treaty until 2011, when the Democratic majority in the Senate shrinks following Republican victories in the midterm elections, may make it more difficult to win approval. Ratification requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate.
‘Confident’ of Ratification
Obama said he was “confident” that the treaty will be ratified before the end of this year’s congressional session.
“This new Start treaty is completely in line with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on this issue,” Obama said. “This is not a Democratic concept, this is not a Republican concept, this is a concept of American national security.”
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, and the panel’s top Republican, Richard Lugar of Indiana, were at the White House meeting, which was led by Vice President Joe Biden, a former chairman of the foreign relations panel. Obama said Biden will lead administration efforts on ratification.
Former defense secretaries William Cohen and William Perry, who both served in the Clinton administration, were at the meeting as well.
Obama later today travels to Lisbon, Portugal, for a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Medvedev also will attend. Kyl and other Republicans have said that the treaty would hamper U.S. missile defenses, one of the subjects for the NATO meeting. The administration has said the treaty will have no impact on plans to deploy such a defense system.
One of the biggest sticking points for ratification has been funding for improvements in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Kyl has said the amount proposed by Obama isn’t sufficient.
The administration has agreed to spend more than $85 billion over the next decade to modernize the system, a $4.1 billion increase over the plan Obama gave to Congress in May.
“This level of funding is unprecedented since the end of the Cold War,” an administration fact sheet says.
Search for Consensus
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also was at the White House session, said yesterday after meeting with senators that a “bipartisan consensus” on the issue may be emerging.
“We’ve had very encouraging discussions,” she said.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, said he is “very comfortable” with the treaty’s impact on U.S. military capabilities and its verification procedures.
Treaty opponents include John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Republican President George W. Bush. Bolton says the treaty confers more benefits on Russia than on the U.S.
Because budget constraints will force reductions in Russia’s nuclear arsenal regardless of whether the treaty takes effect, Bolton and other opponents say U.S. ratification of the accord will unnecessarily preserve nuclear parity between the two powers.
Treaty supporters, including Lugar, say the accord will allow the two sides to resume verification of each other’s arsenals, a process halted when the previous treaty expired almost a year ago.
The monitoring, including site visits, is intended to give both countries confidence that the other side isn’t secretly trying to acquire a crushing nuclear superiority.
The new START agreement 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.
Each of the last three arms-reduction treaties was ratified with more than 90 votes.
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