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Obama Jockeys for Republican Backing on "New START"

(Jul. 23) -U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), shown last month, has pressed the Obama administration to commit to deep nuclear arsenal modernization investments as a condition for supporting ratification of a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia (Alex Wong/Getty Images). (Jul. 23) -U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), shown last month, has pressed the Obama administration to commit to deep nuclear arsenal modernization investments as a condition for supporting ratification of a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia (Alex Wong/Getty Images).

The Obama administration recently urged supportive U.S. lawmakers to back new missile defense assurances and billions of dollars in nuclear weapons complex funding to help lock down Republican support for a pact to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, July 23).

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April signed the "New START" pact, which 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 the Senate and by Russia's legislature (see GSN, July 22).

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. Although enough GOP lawmakers are likely to back the treaty to secure its passage, discussion of the pact could become increasingly polarized with the approach of November's midterm election (Peter Baker, New York Times, July 22).

"A delayed ratification with a close vote would be a blow to U.S. leadership around the world," Ploughshares Fund head Joseph Cirincione told the Associated Press. "People would doubt the president's ability to negotiate other agreements" (Desmond Butler, Associated Press/Time, July 23).

Senator Jon Kyl (Ariz.) has led Republican calls for a long-term, well-funded commitment to updating the U.S. nuclear weapons complex as a condition for supporting the treaty. The Obama administration has sought more than $100 billion in nuclear weapons complex funding over the next decade.

“I’ve told the administration it would be much easier to do the treaty right than to do it fast if they want to get it ratified,” Kyl told the Times yesterday. “It’s not a matter of delay,” he said, but “until I’m satisfied about some of these things, I will not be willing to allow the treaty to come up.”

Kyl said the administration could increase his confidence in plans for updating the deterrent by securing adequate fiscal 2011 funding for modernization activities, seeking sufficient spending in its fiscal 2012 budget request and updating longer-term budget projections to account for possible cost overruns.

“I’m not questioning the administration’s commitment to this,” Kyl said, “but this is a big deal, and it needs to have everybody’s commitment to it at takeoff, and I really don’t see that the groundwork has really been laid.”

Vice President Joseph Biden proposed meeting with Kyl and other lawmakers next week to address the pact. Biden has already met once with the senator, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) has frequently reached out to the Republican in an attempt to assuage concerns about the document. Kerry was also working to address Republican demands to view a portion or more of the accounts of the treaty's negotiation proceedings, the Times reported.

“If they get Kyl, it’s over,” Center for American Progress expert Samuel Charap said. “He carries a lot of weight, and he has made himself such a hard get that if they get him, it will be a big deal. But the question is, are they willing to pay the price he’s asking in light of what they want to do in the future?”

To date, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Richard Lugar (Ind.) is the only Republican senator to openly support the pact. Republican senators including Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.) might ultimately favor ratification, Democrats suggested (Baker, New York Times).

Heritage Action for America, an organization linked to the conservative Heritage Foundation, has begun lobbying senators and collecting petitions against ratification of the treaty, AP reported. The group might also address the issue in advertisements during the campaign season ahead of the November election.

The group might have discouraged some lawmakers from openly supporting the pact, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said.

"It is certainly serious enough to silence some Republican senators," Daschle said, adding that he believed the treaty would receive enough Republican backing to enter into force (Butler, Associated Press).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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