LISBON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama used the international stage Saturday to press his Republican opponents in Congress to ratify a new nuclear arms deal with Russia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also urged U.S. lawmakers to approve the START treaty swiftly and six European foreign ministers echoed the appeal in a joint appearance at a NATO summit in Lisbon.
The treaty, signed by Obama and Medvedev in April, commits the United States and Russia to cutting deployed nuclear weapons by about 30 percent — to no more than 1,550 — within seven years. It also includes verification measures.
Obama says the treaty is vital because it allows U.S. inspectors to gather accurate intelligence about the state of Russia’s nuclear stockpile.
“There is a time element to do this. We don’t have any mechanism to verify what is going on right now on the ground in Russia,” he told a news conference.
Republicans, led by Senator Jon Kyl, have stalled ratification of the treaty in the Senate, saying it needs more work. They say their concerns are unlikely to be resolved before the end of the year.
Sounding frustrated on the last day of the NATO summit, Obama said military officials, senior members of past Republican administrations and European states backed the treaty with Russia.
He said his administration had sought to address Republican concerns about the U.S. nuclear arsenal by agreeing to add $4 billion to the $80 billion already earmarked to modernize it.
“There is no other reason not to do it other than the fact that Washington has become a very partisan place,” Obama said.
It could be “very unpleasant” if there was no START deal, Medvedev told a news conference after talks with NATO leaders.
He said he hoped U.S. lawmakers would take a responsible approach and that Russia would act in a “symmetrical” way to the United States.
“I am sure common sense will prevail,” Medvedev said.
Obama has warned that failure to ratify the treaty would damage improving ties with Russia, which has helped impose tougher sanctions on Iran and allowed equipment destined for NATO forces in Afghanistan through its territory.
Obama and Medvedev held a 15-20 minute one-on-one meeting at the summit and discussed NATO-Russia relations, the START treaty and Obama’s meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a senior administration official told reporters on Air Force One.
The treaty must be approved by the U.S. Senate and the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, before it goes into force. Medvedev has urged the Duma not to ratify it until Senate approval is certain.
The foreign ministers of four former Eastern Bloc countries, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary, along with Denmark and Norway, appeared together at the NATO summit to urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty.
“If the START treaty is not ratified, it would be a real setback for European security,” said Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen. “We urge and hope that the U.S. Congress will be able to ratify the START treaty as soon as possible.”
Additional reporting by Alexei Aninshchuk and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jon Boyle and John O'Callaghan