Obama on START treaty: ‘There is No Higher National Security Priority for the Lame-Duck Session of Congress’

Nov 18, 2010 2:03pm

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller, and Ann Compton report:

Flanked by Republican and Democratic former Secretaries of State, Defense Secretaries, and members of his administration, President Obama made a full court press from the Roosevelt Room of the White House for ratification of the New START treaty before the end of the year, casting it as a national security imperative that cannot be jeopardized nor gambled with.

“There is no higher national security priority for the lame-duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high,” Obama said. “This is not about politics. It's about national security.

Using the words of President Ronald Reagan, Obama said that the nation needs to trust but verify with Russia.

“In order for us to verify, we've got to have a treaty,” he said, “This is not a matter that can be delayed. Every month that goes by without a treaty means that we are not able to verify what's happening on the ground in Russia. And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America's national security will be weakened.”

Casting it in stark terms of what would happen should a treaty not be ratified, the president continued, “no inspectors, no insights into Russia's strategic arsenal, no framework for cooperation between the world's two nuclear superpowers.”

The president said that additionally Russia has been fundamental to the US’s efforts elsewhere, putting pressuring on Iran to deal with its nuclear program and supporting troops in Afghanistan.

“We cannot afford to gamble on our ability to verify Russia's strategic nuclear arms, and we can't jeopardize the progress that we've made in securing vulnerable nuclear materials or in maintaining a strong sanctions regime against Iran. These are all national interests of the highest order.”

The White House brought together today specifically Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State and Defense secretaries to show bipartisan support of this treaty, which Obama today made a note of.

“This New START treaty is completely in line with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on this issue. This is not a Democratic concept; this is not a Republican concept. But this is a concept of American national security that has been promoted by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now my administration.”

The president said they have taken the time to do the treaty right, with over 18 hearings on the subject with multiple briefings, and has been “fully and carefully vetted” by the nation’s military leadership.

Mentioning Senator Kyl specifically, the president also brought up their agreement to request an additional $4.1 billion over the next five years to modernizing the nation’s nuclear infrastructure. The president said he has tasked Vice President Biden to focus on this issue “day and night,” until it gets done.

“Now, Senator Reid said yesterday there is time on the Senate calendar to get this treaty ratified this year,” Obama said “It’s important to our national security to let the — let this treaty go up for a vote.

Asked if the he has the votes to get this done, the president said he is “confident” that he “should” be able to get them.

“Keep in mind that every president since Ronald Reagan has presented an arms treaty with Russia and been able to get ratification. And for the most part, you know, these treaties have been debated on the merits. The majority of them have passed overwhelmingly, with bipartisan support. There's no reason that we shouldn't be able to get that done this time as well.”

 

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