The Obama administration is launching a full-court press to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the START nuclear-weapons treaty with Russia during this winter's lame-duck session of Congress, but the chances of that happening look increasingly unlikely, a delay that is now causing growing frustration in Moscow.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Capitol Hill today to urge the Senate to ratify the treaty, a day after the number-two Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl, expressed doubts that the nuclear weapons pact could get done this year.
"Recently some have suggested we should hit the pause button, that it's too difficult to do this treaty in a lame duck session. I strongly disagree," Clinton said at a press conference with Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders John Kerry and Dick Lugar following a breakfast with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. "This is exactly what the American people expect us to do, to come together and do what is necessary to protect our country. We can and must go forward now on the new START treaty during the lame duck."
"For anyone to think we can postpone it or we can avoid it is, I'm afraid, vastly underestimating the continuing threat that is posed to our country," Clinton said, vowing that "we will do whatever it takes, literally around the clock."
"This is not an issue that can afford to be postponed," she said, "so we think once we take that message with the urgency that you've heard from the three of us, we will get the votes and we will pass the treaty."
Clinton's trip to the Hill to meet with House and Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle came a day after Sen. Kyl said he doubts the treaty can be ratified before the new Congress begins in January.
"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," Kyl said Tuesday.
Kyl's reluctance to get on board was a blow to the administration in the wake of their pledge of an additional $4.1 billion to modernize the country's nuclear arsenal, all in a bid to win GOP support. Last week President Obama said ratifying the treaty was his top foreign policy priority for the lame duck session.
"As of now there is no substantive disagreement on this treaty," Foreign Relations Committee chairman Kerry said today. "What separates, apparently, the sense of ability to move forward is a question about money out 10 years into the future for modernization."
Republican Lugar, who also supports the treaty, echoed Kerry's calls for the Senate to take action on the treaty in the coming weeks.
"There's 13,300 nuclear warheads aimed at us, our cities, our military installations, everything we have. 13,300," Lugar said. "I've stated frequently to my constituents that any one of those warheads could obliterate the city of Indianapolis."
"We're at a point where we're unlikely to get either the treaty or modernization unless we get real," he said.
Obama and Medvedev signed the new treaty in April in Prague. The nuclear agreement requires both countries to reduce their arsenals from 2,200 deployed warheads each to 1,550 over seven years, a 30 percent reduction from the last treaty. The U.S. and Russia also agreed to reduce their long-range missiles and launchers to 700 for each country as well.