Nuclear Arms Treaty Unlikely to Pass This Year, Key Republican Says

By Maya

Nov 16, 2010 3:55pm

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: Today, the Senate’s number two Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, said that he still doubts a new nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia could be ratified during the lame duck period, despite pleas from President Obama and key Democrats on Capitol Hill. “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,” he said in a statement released by his office. Kyl’s reluctance is a blow to President Obama, who has made Senate ratification of the New START treaty his top foreign policy goal during the lame duck session. The President said on Sunday that he would like the Senate to approve the pact before the new Congress is sworn in next year. Kyl’s statement comes despite some significant sweeteners that the Obama administration has offered in recent months to entice reluctant Republicans to vote to ratify the treaty. The administration has proposed spending over $100 billion over the next decade to sustain and modernize America’s missile-based nuclear deterrent, and another $80 billion to modernize nuclear weapons facilities. Today, Vice President Biden said in a statement that the administration would request an additional $4.1 billion for modernization over the next five years. Kyl, who has led the Republican opposition to the arms reduction pact, told the Associated Press that the increase was “a step in the right direction.” A senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to comment candidly, described that administration’s reaction to Kyl’s announcement as “disappointment.” Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote a joint op-ed in the Washington Post urging the Senate to ratify the treaty and seeking to ease Republican concerns. The treaty binds the United States and Russia to jointly reduce their nuclear arsenals and allows for inspection mechanisms to verify those cuts. “Until a new treaty comes into force, our inspectors will not have access to Russian missile silos and the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals will lack the stability that comes with a rigorous inspection regime,” Clinton and Gates wrote. Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton met last week with lawmakers, including Senator Kyl, to try to convince them to support the treaty. Both Biden and Clinton are expected to meet with Senators again tomorrow on Capitol Hill. In September the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve the treaty and sent it to the Senate floor for ratification. Though it was approved 14-4 in the committee, with three Republicans voting in favor, only the committee’s Ranking Member Richard Lugar, R-IN, has said he would support it when it comes to Senate ratification. Senator John Kerry, D-MA, who chairs the committee told reporters today he would continue to try to work with Senator Kyl and others who remain concerned about the treaty. “I interpret it as being his point of view about whether there’s time,” Kerry said of Kyl’s statement. The Obama administration also pledged to continue to work with Senator Kyl and other Republicans. “It remains the Obama administration's belief that the START — new START treaty is in our national interest. And we believe it should be voted upon in this lame-duck session,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said today. “We have engaged senators for many months over the details of the treaty. We believe that we answered all their questions. We've addressed their concerns, including concerns that Senator Kyl and others have expressed about ensuring that there is a(n) effective modernization program as a companion, you know, to the new START treaty. And we will continue our dialogue with the Senate,” he added. ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe contributed to this report.

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