WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former secretaries of state for five Republican presidents urged Senate Republicans to back the New START nuclear treaty with Russia, suggesting failure to do so could affect Moscow’s role on Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Thursday, top diplomats in Republican administrations from Richard Nixon’s to George W. Bush’s called on senators to set aside their domestic partisanship and ratify the treaty in U.S. national interests.
“The most important thing is to have bipartisan support for the treaty, as previous nuclear arms treaties did,” said authors Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger and Colin Powell.
“We believe there are compelling reasons Republicans should support ratification.”
The strategic arms treaty, signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, commits the two Cold War rivals to reduce deployed nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550 within seven years — a cut of up to 30 percent.
Obama has made ratification a top priority for the final weeks of the current Congress. But that has been thrown into doubt by Senator Jon Kyl, the top Republican negotiator on the issue, who does not believe there is enough time to resolve outstanding differences.
Without Kyl’s endorsement, Democrats might not be able to win enough Republican support to get the 67 votes necessary to ratify the treaty in the 100-seat Senate.
Democrats are keen to ratify the treaty before the new Congress takes office in January, when the party’s majority in the Senate will be narrowed by last month’s election losses.
Kyl and other Republicans are concerned about the need to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and ensure the treaty does not interfere with development of U.S. missile defenses or conventional weapons systems.
The former secretaries said the treaty addresses those concerns and praised Kyl for his vigilance in ensuring increased funding for modernization of the U.S. arsenal.
“We have here an agreement that is clearly in our national interest,” they wrote.
But they also warned of potential implications for U.S.-Russia relations if the agreement is not ratified.
“Russia’s cooperation will be needed if we are to make progress in rolling back the Iranian and North Korean programs,” the article said.
“Russian help will be needed to continue our work to secure ‘loose nukes’ in Russia and elsewhere. And Russian assistance is needed to improve the situation in Afghanistan, a breeding ground for international terrorism.”
Some Republicans have said the New START treaty could be taken up if Democrats cut back their agenda in the so-called lame duck session. The agenda includes contentious issues including the extension of expiring tax cuts.
“There are plenty of opportunities to battle on domestic political issues linked to the future of the American economy,” the former secretaries said in their article.
“With our country facing the dual threats of unemployment and a growing federal debt bomb, we anticipate significant conflict between Democrats and Republicans. It is, however, in the national interest to ratify New START.”
Editing by Eric Beech