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Rice Urges Senate GOP to Ratify New START Soon

By Sara Sorcher

National Journal

(Dec. 8) -Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, shown in October, in a commentary called on the Senate to approve the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images). (Dec. 8) -Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, shown in October, in a commentary called on the Senate to approve the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- As Senate Republicans continue their standoff over the New START treaty until disputes over tax cuts and spending are resolved, Condoleezza Rice yesterday urged them to give priority to approving the treaty during the lame-duck session (see GSN, Dec. 6).

Rice’s public call for Senate GOP support for the treaty, made in an opinion column in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, makes her the last of six living Republican former secretaries of State to press for action on the arms pact, which would reduce the nuclear weapons stockpile in the U.S. and Russia by roughly a third.

Rice, who served in former President George W. Bush's Cabinet, said that all senators should ratify a treaty she asserted is vital to national security, partly because it “helpfully reinstates on-site verification of Russian nuclear forces” that lapsed after the original START treaty expired last year. She said the Senate also should signal to Moscow that the pact won’t limit U.S. missile defenses.

“I have personally witnessed Moscow's tendency to interpret every utterance as a binding commitment,” Rice wrote. “The Russians need to understand that the U.S. will use the full-range of American technology and talent to improve our ability to intercept and destroy the ballistic missiles of hostile countries.”

Rice joins five former GOP secretaries of State: Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker III, Lawrence Eagleburger and Colin Powell, who all said in a Washington Post op-ed last week that the Obama administration has made important concessions to appease the treaty’s critics.

Yet despite the firepower provided by these foreign-policy heavyweights, Senate Republicans continue to take their cues from Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, who has insisted that the Senate act to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and provide funds to keep the federal government operating for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year before taking up the treaty. Although he has not taken a formal position on the arms-reduction pact, Kyl has said that he does not believe there's enough time in the lame-duck session for the current Congress to have debate and vote on it.

Kyl had successfully pushed for a key demand of the arms-control skeptics, getting the White House to agree to add $4.1 billion to the $80 billion already budgeted to modernize the nuclear weapons complex, before blindsiding the Obama administration last month by raising his concerns about the lack of time to consider the treaty.

Time is indeed running out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to wrap up the session on December 17. Decisions on how to proceed on tax cuts and spending ultimately will determine whether the senators can vote on the treaty, not the arguments for ratification that Rice and other former Republican officials are making.

Even so, the former GOP Cabinet secretaries -- including Rice yesterday -- made sure to thank Kyl for his efforts. “Although each of us had initial questions about New START, administration officials have provided reasonable answers … [providing] compelling reasons Republicans should support ratification,” the five secretaries wrote.

While the treaty is “modest” and “more than enough for deterrence,” Rice wrote, “there are legitimate concerns about New START that must and can be addressed in the ratification process and, if the treaty is ratified, in future monitoring of the Obama administration's commitments.”

The administration needs to line up more Republican support for the START treaty if it expects Senate approval it in the lame duck; its prospects will dim significantly next year when Republicans increase their number in the new Congress than convenes in January.

Meanwhile, several House Republicans put pressure on their Senate colleagues not to rush to consider the treaty. The top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Buck McKeon of California, and on the Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, along with 14 other GOP committee members signed a letter sent today to Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that they are "troubled by the administration’s push to ratify the New START Treaty amid outstanding concerns regarding Russian intentions, missile defense limitations, and nuclear modernization."

The Senate "should not be rushed in its deliberations," they wrote.

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