Hillary Clinton to continue push for START vote

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced she will press for a vote on the START nuclear arms treaty, despite opposition from Sen. John Kyl, a key Republican legislator.

Susan Walsh/AP
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured here at the State Department in Washington on Nov. 16, is set to meet with congressional leaders today in an effort to push ratification of the START nuclear arms treaty.

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to meet with congressional leaders today in an effort to push ratification of the START nuclear arms treaty, after a key Republican senator threatened Tuesday to stall it – potentially jeopardizing US-Russia relations.

Bloomberg reports that Secretary Clinton will try to use the goodwill she acquired with members of both parties during her time as a US senator in order to secure the support needed to ratify the START treaty, which was signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

The treaty, which reduces the size of both countries' nuclear arsenals and allows each to inspect the other's facilities, was dealt a blow Tuesday after Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona said he would seek to prevent a vote on its ratification during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Mr. Kyl is highly influential within his party on nuclear weapons issues. Support for the treaty from him would likely have insured enough Republican support to secure the 67 votes needed to ratify the treaty.

The White House had hoped to have the treaty ratified before the new session of Congress starts in January, when six outgoing Democratic senators are replaced by newly-elected Republicans. Bloomberg notes that despite Kyl's statement, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said that Kyl's vote was still "gettable" if the White House were willing to amend and clarify the treaty.

The New York Times reports that Kyl said that there was insufficent time to review the treaty, which was signed in April, before the end of the year.

Mr. Kyl said he informed the Senate Democratic leader that there was not enough time to resolve all the issues during the lame-duck session that opened this week. “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 written statement.

Mr. Kyl declined a request to be interviewed. Asked if the senator’s statement was meant to close the door to a lame-duck vote, his spokesman, Ryan Patmintra said: “Correct. Given the pending legislative business and outstanding issues on the treaty and modernization, there doesn’t appear to be enough time.”

BBC News reports that Vice President Joe Biden warned that stalling ratification of START would "endanger our national security," as the US is presently unable to inspect Russian nuclear facilities. Such inspections, along with reciprocal inspection of US weapons by the Russians, were a part of the previous START treaties that expired in December 2009.

Mr. Biden noted that "The New START treaty is 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."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen also recently called ratification of the START treaty "essential" to US security, reports The Christian Science Monitor. Admiral Mullen warned that despite the fall of the Soviet Union, the nuclear deterrence provided by START remains a critical aspect of national security. Mullen added that while some Republicans have expressed concern that the treaty would limit US ability to develop missile defenses, that is not the case.

“They say this gives the Russians what they want: no serious effort by the United States to develop and field such systems,” Mullen argued last Friday before an audience that included Henry Kissinger at the Hoover Institution’s conference on deterrence in Stanford, Calif. “There is nothing in the treaty that prohibits us from developing any kind of missile defense.”

The Monitor also reports that Republican recalcitrance has generated concern in Russia regarding the treaty. Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of Russia's State Duma international committee, warned that if START is not ratified by the US senate, the whole treaty might have to be renegotiated. And some believe failure to ratify might push Russia away from the West and cause it to align its policies more closely to China.

"If it turns out that we cannot even get a responsible, mutually beneficial, and properly negotiated arms control treaty accepted, then people will inevitably say the US is not a country we can do business with," says [Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow].
"There are a lot of people here who say our natural partner should be China," he says. "The danger is that the failure of START could lead to a major strategic reversal."

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