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New START Treaty a Top Priority For Democrats in Lame-Duck Session

November 17, 2010 at 4:30 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Next tonight: the debate over the new START nuclear arms treaty with Russia. The Obama administration today again urged the Senate to ratify it before the end of the year. Margaret Warner has our story.

MARGARET WARNER: The Obama administration stepped up the pressure today to approve a new nuclear weapons treaty with Russia before this Congress expires.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the Capitol to urge the lame-duck Senate to vote now.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: For anyone to think that we can postpone it or we can avoid it is, I’m afraid, vastly underestimating the continuing threat that is posed to our country. So we hope our friends in the Senate will bring this up, pass this treaty, and then I can inform the Russians that it’s now their — you know, their turn to do the same.

MARGARET WARNER: Clinton was responding to Senator Jon Kyl, the Republicans’ point man on the issue. He stunned the administration yesterday, saying he didn’t think the treaty should be brought up in the lame-duck session. He cited the press of other business and unresolved issues on the treaty.

New START — for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — would replace the 1991 START-1 pact that expired last December. Under the new accord, the U.S. and Russia agreed to cut deployed strategic warheads by 30 percent, to 1,550 apiece, and cap ballistic missile launchers and bombers at 800 each.

The treaty cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September, with three out of seven Republicans voting yes. But it needs 67 votes in the full Senate. Republicans have a number of complaints, but Kyl has focused mainly on the need to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal and labs.

This past weekend, the Obama administration upped its offer to fund modernization, to $84 billion over 10 years, but, today, moderate Republican Ohio Senator George Voinovich said voting now would be a rush to judgment.

In Japan last weekend, President Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he wanted Senate action soon.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I reiterated my commitment to get the START treaty done during the lame-duck session. And I have communicated to Congress that it is a top priority.

MARGARET WARNER: Now it appears the president will go empty-handed when he meets Medvedev again at the NATO summit in Portugal this weekend.