Russian Arms Pact Faces New Obstacle

0 Posted by - November 17, 2010 - Military

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*Taken from the Wall Street Journal.

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican said Tuesday that he opposed a vote this year on President Barack Obama’s signature arms control treaty, dealing a blow to a top White House foreign policy priority and possibly to U.S.-Russian relations.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona said there wasn’t time to deal with his concerns over a treaty that would cut U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons deployments by about one third and restore weapons inspections that were halted nearly a year ago. Treaty ratification requires 67 votes in the Senate. Mr. Kyl’s decision likely pushes a vote to next year, when the Senate Democratic majority shrinks to 53 from 58.

Mr. Kyl’s announcement took the White House by surprise. A White House official said that just last Friday, officials from the Defense Department, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Strategic Command briefed the senator and offered an additional $4.1 billion over the next five years that he had demanded to modernize the remaining nuclear arsenal.

Vice President Joe Biden, who has been leading the ratification effort, said in a statement that the administration would continue to press for a vote in the lame-duck Congress. “Failure to pass the New START Treaty this year would endanger our national security,” he said, calling the treaty “a fundamental part of our relationship with Russia, which has been critical to our ability to supply our troops in Afghanistan and to impose and enforce strong sanctions on the Iranian government.”

On Sunday, Mr. Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a private meeting in Yokohama, Japan, that a ratification vote would be his top priority for the lame-duck session of the Senate, which began this week. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a treaty supporter, said Tuesday he still wanted the vote. Weapons inspectors have been barred from each other’s nuclear sites since the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, negotiated by President George H. W. Bush, expired last December.

Mr. Lugar “believes it is imperative we keep the verification process going, and he’s fearful if we don’t do it this session, it would throw a major road block in U.S.-Russian nonproliferation arrangements,” said Mark Helmke, a Lugar spokesman.

Mr. Lugar, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D., Mass.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are to meet for breakfast on Wednesday to discuss their options. But without Mr. Kyl’s support, 67 votes looks doubtful. Conservative Republicans are looking to Mr. Kyl, a longtime conservative voice on nuclear arms control, for direction.

Administration officials documented 29 consultations with and phone calls to Mr. Kyl on the START treaty since August 2009. Mr. Kyl is holding out for more assurances that the administration and Congress will spend tens of billions of dollars to modernize the remaining nuclear stockpile and maintain its nuclear weapons laboratories and production facilities.

“When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame-duck session, I replied I did not think so, given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization,” Mr. Kyl said in a statement.

The treaty, signed with fanfare last year in Prague, would cap deployed strategic warheads at 1,550 a side, compared with 2,200 set in a nonbinding 2002 treaty, and launchers at 700 each, compared with 1,600 set by the expired START. Ratification was supposed to launch a more ambitious round of negotiations aimed at nondeployed, or mothballed, strategic warheads and smaller, battlefield nuclear weapons untouched by the treaty.

Russian lawmakers formally pulled the treaty from consideration in the Duma after the mid-term elections, citing political doubts, although they can resubmit it at any time.

Arms control advocates on both sides worry that tension over the treaty could jeopardize cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an arms control advocacy group, accused Mr. Kyl of engineering a “pay to play” scheme and demanding “nuclear earmarks.” The administration has already pledged $80 billion over the next decade for nuclear weapons modernization programs, and Mr. Kyl has demanded more.

Ryan Patmintra, a Kyl spokesman, said such concerns are far-fetched. Mr. Kyl needs assurances that those pledges will survive the upheavals on Capitol Hill, and he doesn’t even know which Republican will lead the House Appropriations Committee next year, Mr. Patmintra said. If he receives those assurances and can back the treaty, aides to Mr. Kyl said, he will bring conservative Republicans along, and passage will be assured, whether there are 42 Republicans, as there are now, or 47 as of next year.

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