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Obama Official Optimistic on CTBT, New Nuke Cuts in Second Term

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration in its second term aims to see both U.S. ratification of a treaty to end atomic testing and new nuclear-weapon reductions with Russia, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday.

“I certainly think there is more than a possibility” for achieving Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and making progress with Russia on arms cuts beyond those mandated by the New START treaty, according to Anita Friedt, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Nuclear and Strategic Policy.

Arsenal cutbacks and CTBT ratification were among a host of goals laid out in the 2009 Prague speech in which President Obama described his hopes for a world without nuclear weapons.

The White House garnered support from only 13 GOP lawmakers in the 2010 Senate vote in favor of New START, which binds the United States and Russia to capping their deployed strategic nuclear stockpiles to 1,550 warheads apiece by 2018. It has not sought a vote yet on the test ban treaty, focusing instead on an informational campaign intended to raise support for legislative approval.

Some GOP lawmakers have signaled they will continue to staunchly oppose new efforts by the White House to reduce the quantity of nuclear weapons and their role in U.S. defense policy. Republicans argue the security threat posed by nations such as North Korea and Iran is too great to justify going below New START warhead levels at this time.

The president can use his executive authority to order unilateral reductions of the nuclear weapons stockpile, which Russia might or might not decide to reciprocate. Doing so would surely incur the wrath of Republicans in the Senate, who might decide to punish the administration by uniting to deny the CTBT accord the two-thirds majority vote required for ratification.

The State Department is keenly aware of this tension in priorities, Friedt indicated to an audience at the American Security Project. It is a particularly  “challenging question” of how to strike the balance in pursuing both CTBT ratification and further curbs to the atomic arsenal, she said.

"Where we are on the Hill [politically] right now obviously is a challenge,” the State Department official said, adding “ that just means we need to redouble our efforts and work harder.”

“We will certainly do our best to implement as many of the president’s priorities as possible,” said Friedt, who from 2009 to 2011 was director of arms control and nonproliferation on the National Security Council.

Friedt said the ratification and enactment of the CTBT pact “remains a priority for the Obama administration.” The United States is among eight nations that must give legislative approval for the treaty before it can enter into force. The others are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan.

There is no specific timeline for bringing the treaty back to the Senate for consideration, she said. Congress’ upper chamber rejected the accord in its first go-around in 1999.

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