Senate Considers START, South Korea Holds Live-fire Exercises

BY Francine Uenuma  December 20, 2010 at 8:17 AM EDT

The Senate is considering a new nuclear arms deal with Russia, signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, that Mr. Obama has said is a top foreign policy priority in the lame-duck session of Congress. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Sunday he will vote against the new New Strategic Arms Reduction Treat (START), saying he was uneasy with some of the provisions and hoped for a delay until February.


President Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in Prague on April 8, 2010. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite Republican opposition, Democrats believe they have sufficient numbers to vote for cloture, but with several Republicans on the fence, it is too soon to say if they will be able to reach the 67 votes needed to ratify the treaty.

Over the weekend the DREAM Act, designed to allow children of illegal immigrants to gain citizenship through education or military service, fell short in the Senate in a 55-41 vote. Despite being long-championed by Democratic leaders, five Democrats voted against it and three Republicans supported it.

South Korea Holds Live-fire Exercises on Yeonpyeong Island


South Korean marines patrol Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, Dec. 20, 2010. (Getty Images)

South Korea’s military held drills on Yeonpyeong Island Monday, one day after the U.N. Security Council failed to reach an agreement after China declined to sign a statement critical of North Korea.

North Korea’s state-run television station, KCNA, said the government had decided not to retaliate despite earlier threats, saying, “[T]he world should properly know who is the true champion of peace and who is the real provocateur of a war.” Tensions have steadily mounted on the Korean peninsula since North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, killing four South Koreans.

Meantime, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richarson wrapped up an unofficial visit to Pyongyang, followed by an announcement that North Korea will allow U.N. nuclear inspectors back in the country. Richardson, who has been allowed into the closed-off country to help resolve previous diplomatic crises, was in North Korea in an attempt to ease the latest round hostilities.

The South Korean government is undertaking a major study of the inner workings of its secretive and authoritarian neighbor, attempting to measure the likelihood of a possible collapse of the regime by examining the military, economy and possible succession of Kim Jong-Il’s son, Kim Jong-Un. Despite a deeply repressed population and hunger crises, North Korea has defied predictions of collapse before; the death of founder Kim Il-Sung 1994 and a major famine failed to unseat the dynasty.

Protesters Injured, Arrested After Disputed Belarus Election

Violence broke out in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, after an estimated crowd of 10,000 gathered to protest the results of the country’s presidential election. Incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko, who has controlled the former Soviet satellite since it gained independence in 1994, claimed to have received 79.7 percent of the vote.

The arrests were not limited to demonstrators; several of the opposition candidates and their staff members were attacked or detained.

Lukashenko, who is the first president of Belarus, has consolidated his grip on power during his 16 years in office. Protests after the last election in 2006 were quickly put down.

Iraqi Prime Minister May Fall Short of Saturday Cabinet Deadline

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been unable to announce a new national cabinet amid ongoing disagreement between Iraq’s political parties ahead of a Saturday deadline.

Iraq’s main rival blocs agreed in November to form a coalition government that would keep al-Maliki in power but give key posts to rivals, chiefly Ayad Allawi of the Sunni-supported Iraqiya party. It also preserved the presidency for Kurd leader Jalal Talabani.