Senate approves nuclear arms treaty with Russia

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 22, 2010 6:52pm EST

1 of 7. Senator John Kerry (Right) walks to the Senate floor during debate over ratification of the START treaty at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, December 22, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate approved a landmark nuclear arms control treaty with Russia on Wednesday, giving President Barack Obama a major foreign policy victory in his drive to improve ties with Moscow and curb the spread of atomic weapons to other nations.

The Senate voted 71-26 in favor of the New START treaty between the former Cold War foes after a contentious debate with Republican leaders that threatened traditional bipartisanship on security affairs.

"This treaty will enhance our leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace of a world without them," Obama told a news conference after the vote, praising the bipartisan nature of the final result.

The vote was an endorsement of Obama's efforts to improve relations with Russia and curb the pursuit of nuclear weapons by countries like North Korea and Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the process was "a new gold standard for concluding agreements of this kind."

"Not only does the treaty facilitate a strengthening of the security of Russia and the USA but it will also have a positive effect on international stability and security in general," Lavrov told the Interfax news agency.

The Russian parliament has yet to approve the treaty -- signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April -- but the Kremlin-backed United Russia party is dominant, so ratification there is all but assured.

Still, Russian lawmakers will review the terms in the U.S. Senate's resolution of ratification.

"Taking into account the amendments added by senators, we are forced to undertake a deep and thorough analysis of the text ... since we are speaking about the national security of our country," Leonid Slutsky, deputy chair of parliament's international affairs committee, told Interfax.

Senator John Kerry, who led the debate as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the treaty was a message to Iran and North Korea "that the international community remains united to restrain the nuclear ambitions of countries that operate outside the law."

"We send a message that the two countries that possess 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons are fulfilling their obligations to reduce their arsenals in a responsible manner," Kerry said.

The treaty will cut long-range, strategic nuclear weapons deployed by Russia and the United States to no more than 1,550 on each side within seven years. Deployed missile launchers will be cut to no more than 700 on each side.

The agreement also creates an inspection and verification process to replace the one that expired nearly a year ago with the end of the original START accord.

The new treaty has wide support in military and diplomatic circles. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it would make a "significant contribution" to regional security and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was a "clear message" supporting nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

U.S. CREDIBILITY AT STAKE

Passage of the treaty with support from 13 Republicans was a big victory for Obama just weeks after his Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives and narrowly retained control of the Senate in the November 2 congressional elections.

Republican senators had sought to amend the treaty this week to allow for more inspections, more deployed missiles and to force talks on tactical nuclear weapons. But Democrats, who still control the chamber 58-42 until the new Congress sits in January, easily defeated the amendments.

Kerry said Senate approval was critical for sustaining Obama's credibility with fellow world leaders and supporting his ability to advance the U.S. agenda.

Officials in the Obama administration have said passage of the New START treaty was a prerequisite for turning to other arms control issues such as reducing tactical nuclear weapons.

But Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate and an opponent of New START, said he would fight any effort to revive the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

"This may be the last arms control agreement for a while," Kyl said. "I think we can get back to focusing on the real issues -- issues of proliferation, terrorism and dealing with threats from countries like North Korea and Iran."

Arms control experts disagreed, hailing the treaty as a step in the right direction.

Steven Pifer, director of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings think tank, said failure of the treaty would have undercut Obama on the world stage.

"Virtually all the NATO allies came out and endorsed this treaty," he said. "And had the Obama administration not been able to deliver its ratification, I think that it would have really been a blow to the credibility and authority of the president when he was engaging overseas."

While the treaty will not cause Iran or North Korea to alter their behavior, Pifer said, "it does give the administration a greater authority with other countries to up the pressure on North Korea and Iran."

Daryl Kimball, director of the nonpartisan Arms Control Association, said the treaty "does augur well for the Senate's pursuing further fact-based, adult conversations about nuclear security issues and I'm optimistic about the prospects for building upon this bipartisan consensus."

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull in Washington and Alissa De Carbonnel in Moscow; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (25)
Realist99 wrote:
“It is a centerpiece of Obama’s bid to “re-set” relations with Russia, which has been increasingly cooperative on issues related to U.S. national security, from curbing Iran’s nuclear program to the war in Afghanistan.”

Seriously? Before Obama “hit the reset button,” the Russians and others blocked fuel rods from going into the Busheir plant. But in August of 2010, Russian-made rods went in. Operated long enough, the rods will contain enough plutonium to be reprocessed into a bomb–the other track towards fission weapons in addition to the highly-enriched-Uranium track that Iran is also clearly pursuing with its thousands of centrifuges. You might say, “but Russia and Iran promise that once the rods have Plutonium, they will be taken back to Russia for reprocessing.” Who’s willing to bet the lives of their citizens that they’re telling the truth? Not me. And hopefully not President Obama. But if he has so much influence with his new friends the Russians, why wasn’t he able to stop this?

Dec 21, 2010 9:53pm EST  --  Report as abuse
marc5 wrote:
Hmmm…. so what about China?

Dec 21, 2010 10:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
giveitthought wrote:
Another talking point for the upcoming elections. Count on this one being hailed as a “MAJOR FOREIGN POLICY MIRACLE.” Sort of like calling your kid a genius when he speaks his first words. Em, no, he’s not a genius, he’s just a kid who finally started talking.

It won’t affect polling numbers even a little, which will send Obama back into his usual whining that the evil Republicans are out to get him. It’s almost interesting.

Dec 22, 2010 1:31am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.