WELLINGTON U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday she believed the White House has the votes to pass a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia and she hoped this would happen this year.
The so-called New START agreement, signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, commits former Cold War foes Washington and Moscow to reduce deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent.
Obama's fellow Democrats saw their majority in the Senate, which must ratify the treaty with at least 67 votes, trimmed in Tuesday's U.S. mid-term elections, meaning it will be harder for the White House to secure ratification next year.
The Obama administration hopes the Senate will approve the treaty during a post-election special work period called a "lame-duck session" that begins on November 15, but it is unclear whether Republicans will allow that.
A lame-duck period is the time between a congressional election in November and the start of the new Congress in January. During that time, Congress operates but with many lawmakers who have just been voted out of office and with none of the newly-elected members, except victorious incumbents.
"We believe we have enough votes to pass it in the Senate. It's just a question of when it will be brought to the vote," Clinton told reporters at a news conference with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
"It may be brought, and it would certainly be my preference that it be brought, in any lame-duck session in the next several weeks," she added. "That is what I am working toward .. but we'll have to wait and work with the Senate and the (chamber's) leadership when they come back for that session."
Obama wants the treaty ratified this year as part of his "re-set" of relations with Russia and a step toward his goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Russia must also ratify the treaty, but is waiting to see what the United States will do.
If it does not pass the Senate this year, the White House is likely to find it harder to secure Senate approval next year because of Republican gains in the chamber and the need to educate new members from both parties about the treaty's intricacies.
(Editing by Kim Coghill)