Obama: Hopes Russia arms pact ratified this year

WASHINGTON Thu Nov 4, 2010 1:54pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday he hoped the Senate would ratify a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia before the end of this year's congressional term.

Obama, speaking at the end of a cabinet meeting, listed the new START pact, which he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April, among unfinished business he wants handled in the aftermath of congressional elections in which his Democrats suffered heavy losses.

Obama's party saw its majority in the 100-seat Senate, which must ratify the treaty with at least 67 votes, trimmed in Tuesday's midterm elections, meaning it will be harder for the White House to secure ratification next year.

Obama wants the Senate to approve the treaty, which commits the former Cold War foes to reduce deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent, during a post-election special work period called a "lame-duck session" that begins on November 15.

But it is unclear that Republicans, who already have enough votes to block ratification, 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.

The Obama administration sees the treaty as a centerpiece of its effort to "reset" relations with Russia.

"This is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue but rather a issue of American national security and I am hopeful that we can get that done ... and send a strong signal to Russia that we are serious about reducing nuclear arsenals," Obama told reporters.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Vicki Allen)