Republicans want nuke modernization pledge kept

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican lawmakers threatened Monday to try to freeze funds for implementing the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia if the Obama administration breaks a promise to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons that remain.

The lawmakers may be able to advance such a plan in the Republican-run House of Representatives, but it may not fare as well in the Senate, where President Barack Obama’s Democrats hold a majority and are likely to resist efforts to force the administration’s hand.

Last year, as the Obama administration was trying to get more Senate Republicans to vote for the new START treaty, it promised to address their concerns that the nuclear weapons remaining in the U.S. arsenal are well maintained.

The administration said the modernization of U.S. nuclear research and production facilities and maintenance of the stockpile is expected to cost $85 billion over 10 years. It also outlined a plan for spending $100 billion to update delivery systems such as cruise missiles.

Senator Jon Kyl and Representative Michael Turner, both Republicans, said they wanted to write into law provisions that would freeze funding to implement the new START treaty for six months if the administration backtracks on its pledge.

Turner said he plans to make the proposal as an amendment to a defense policy bill to be voted on this week by the House Armed Services Committee.

He and Kyl acknowledged that there was no sign that the administration was backing away from its modernization commitment, saying it had included the necessary funding in its budget for fiscal year 2012.

But “circumstances change and the next thing you know understandings that we thought we had are at issue. Better to have it in writing,” Kyl said at a briefing for reporters with Turner.

The new START treaty commits Russia and the United States to cut deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550 within seven years. It is a centerpiece of Obama’s effort to “reset” relations with Russia and is seen as a downpayment on his vision to eventually rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Congressional aides said implementing the new START treaty was estimated to cost several hundred million dollars.

The treaty passed the Senate 71-26 in December. Kyl was among those who voted against it.

Arms Control Association director Daryl Kimball said Kyl and Turner were addressing the wrong audience.

With many Republican lawmakers in budget-cutting mode, “Senator Kyl and Congressman Turner shouldn’t be saying they are going to hold the Obama administration’s feet to the fire. If they are serious, they should be talking to the Republicans,” Kimball said.

Editing by Christopher Wilson