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Lame-Duck Senate Will Consider START Treaty

December 15, 2010 at 4:52 PM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The lame-duck Senate will take up a nuclear arms treaty with Russia after all. The so-called New START treaty would cut the total nuclear warheads allowed to both countries. It cleared a key hurdle today, when nine Republicans joined Democrats to end delaying tactics.

Leading the opposition, Republican Jon Kyl said it’s still not clear the treaty can get 67 votes for ratification, one more than it got today.

SEN. JON KYL (R-Ariz.), minority whip: People have told you here that they would like to vote for the treaty, but under the current circumstances, the way that it’s being jammed through, they can’t do that. And I would just suggest that the administration needs to take that into account when considering whether they will really have the votes that they need.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Kyl argued the treaty limits U.S. missile defense options and is weak on verification. He called for delay until next year. Treaty supporters like Democrat John Kerry pointed to a long list of past and present leaders who favor action now.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), chairman, Foreign Relations Committee: Why, if the entire military establishment of our country and national intelligence establishment of our country, and the Strategic Command of our country, are asking us to ratify this treaty, why do some senators know better than they do, and suggest that we shouldn’t?

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Senate is now set for a possible final vote on the treaty tomorrow.

The House voted today to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Democrats pushed it through, mostly down party lines. So far, Republicans in the Senate have blocked a vote on repeal. President Obama has urged final action before Congress adjourns for the year.

In Southeastern Iran, at least 39 people were killed when a pair of suicide bombers attacked a mosque. It was packed with Shiite worshipers gathered for an annual religious ceremony. Some 90 people were wounded. A Sunni Muslim rebel group claimed responsibility.

The U.N. Security Council today ended 19 years of sanctions on Iraq’s pursuit of civilian nuclear power. The vote also ends the sanctions on efforts to build weapons of mass destruction. That activity is now banned in the Iraqi constitution.

Vice President Biden presided over the Security Council meeting.

U.S. VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: As a founding member of the United Nations, Iraq seeks and deserves the opportunity to resume its rightful role in the community of nations. Toward that end, this session formally acknowledges the significant steps Iraq has taken toward fulfilling its obligations to the United Nations incurred in the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Security Council also urged Iraq to ratify treaties that allow surprise inspections of its nuclear sites.

At least 28 people were confirmed dead today after a boat loaded with 70 refugees capsized off an Australian island. The vessel crashed into rocks during a storm off Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

We have a report narrated by Lewis Vaughan Jones of Independent Television News.

MAN: We need to get life jackets down to these people.

LEWIS VAUGHAN JONES: The wooden boat is full of people still clinging on as the swell throws them towards the cliffs. Then the waves smash the boat against the rocks, tearing it apart. But, even now, as the boat is almost completely underwater, people are still huddled on its bow. An eyewitness on the island described what happened.

WOMAN: Terrifying to watch, and there was nothing, nothing we can do. You don’t know. They were lying down. They were obviously very, very sick. Some of them were not even moving, they would have been so sick. But I saw children on that boat. I saw children. And I can hear children screaming.

LEWIS VAUGHAN JONES: Children and babies were among those thrown into the water. Rescuers threw ropes and life jackets. So far, 41 people have been pulled to safety.

WAYNE SWAN, Australian deputy prime minister: A number of people have been rescued, but, sadly, some bodies have been retrieved. It is very difficult weather, very difficult conditions. We have naval and customs vessels in the area, and the rescue is ongoing.

LEWIS VAUGHAN JONES: The boat was carrying asylum-seekers mainly from the Middle East.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In recent years, a growing number of people from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan have flown to Indonesia. From there, they try to make it to Australian territory by boat.

Unions backed protests and a one-day general strike across Athens today against the Greek government’s austerity measures. As violence escalated, riot police tried to contain the protesters using tear gas and flash grenades. The crowds fought back, hurling gasoline bombs and setting fire to cars. The demonstrations were aimed at pay cuts and other changes imposed by the government.

The Irish Parliament has approved a $90 billion bailout by the European

Union and International Monetary Fund. The emergency rescue was designed to keep fallout from Ireland’s debt troubles from spreading to other E.U. members. Ireland’s government was hit hard by its move to shore up banks, after the real estate collapse in 2008.

Concerns over Europe’s debt crisis weighed on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 19 points to close at 11,457. The Nasdaq fell 10 points to close at 2,617.