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Debate on "New START" Seen Dragging Past August

A number of U.S. Senate staffers expressed doubt that the legislative body would vote on ratification of a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia before adjourning in two weeks for its August recess, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday (see GSN, July 23).

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April signed the replacement to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The "New START" pact would obligate both nations to cap their fielded strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 warheads, down from the maximum of 2,200 allowed each country by 2012 under the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The deal would also limit U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear delivery vehicles to 700, with another 100 platforms allowed in reserve. The pact has been submitted for ratification by Russia's legislature as well as the Senate.

Demands by Senate Republicans for additional details on the treaty and time to consider ratification have raised the possibility that senators pact might not vote on the pact until after November's midterm election, according to the Times.

Ratification of the treaty in Washington would require 67 Senate votes, a number that must include no less than eight Republicans endorsements in this Congress. If debate continued into next year, the possible election of additional Republican senators into office could further increase political resistance to the pact.

If the treaty dies in the Senate, the Obama administration would find it more difficult to press ahead with other arms control goals, according to the Times.

Republican senators including Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and John McCain (Ariz.) have placed various conditions on their support for the treaty, including a long-term, well-funded commitment to updating the U.S. nuclear weapons complex; assurance the document would not limit future missile defense deployments; and confidence that the document's verification provisions are adequate for accurately monitoring the state of Russia's nuclear deterrent.

"The cynical interpretation is that the Republicans are just trying to delay this thing until after the election so they have more leverage," said Tom Collina, an expert with the Arms Control Association.

The current Congress would only re-convene after the election this year with approval from both parties, Collina said. If Republicans won a substantial number of additional offices, they might opt to wait to gain more bargaining power when the new Congress convenes in 2011, he said.

A vote on the treaty is likely to occur before the end of the year, suggested Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.).

"The hope is that their concerns can be adequately addressed and we can deal with it quickly," Manley said. "But Republicans are not making it easy for us to do much of anything right now" (Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, July 24).

The Obama administration's reluctance to disclose the treaty's negotiating record has raised concerns among some questioning onlookers of potential secret U.S. concessions to Moscow, the Christian Science Monitor reported Friday.

“Is there a smoking gun in the treaty negotiations record? Probably not,” said Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington. “But the resistance we’re getting from supporters to opening up (the record) and the holding back (of information) are feeding paranoia about this.”

The Senate should "trust but clarify," Sokolski said, calling for lawmakers to investigate the implications in the treaty for future arms control pacts.

The 1991 agreement was not a "rush job" finished in "just a few weeks," he noted.

Sokolski urged the Obama administration to continue seeking Republican support for the pact. “If you tell a Republican, ‘We want your vote now because we know when you get more seats you’re going to oppose this,’ how does that work to build support?” (Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, July 23).

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