Obama pushes Senate to approve START treaty now, not later

The president calls it a 'gamble' to put off a vote on the new treaty with Russia, as some in the GOP have sought. Sen. John Kerry calls it a 'first step' to show Americans that the parties can work together.

November 18, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — President Obama on Thursday called the new START treaty with Russia a "national security imperative," ramping up pressure on the Senate to ratify it during the lame-duck session.

Obama joined a meeting in the White House hosted by Vice President Biden that included former secretaries of State and Defense and the chair and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make his case.

He said it was a "gamble" to put off a Senate vote, as some Republicans have asked for, calling the treaty a "cornerstone of our relationship with Russia."

"This is not a matter that can be delayed," Obama said. "This is not about politics."

Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona, said earlier this week that he did not think a vote on the treaty could be supported "given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization" of U.S. nuclear weapons systems.

Obama said Thursday that he was prepared "to go the extra mile" to address those concerns, adding that the treaty has been vetted with 18 hearings, multiple briefings and support from military leadership.

"The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high," he said. "We can't jeopardize the progress that we've made in securing vulnerable nuclear materials, or in maintaining a strong sanctions regime against Iran."

Asked if he thought he could find the 67 votes in the Senate needed to ratify the treaty, Obama said he was confident.

"Keep in mind that every president since Ronald Reagan has presented an arms treaty with Russia and been able to get ratification," he said.

Sen. John Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, said earlier Thursday that Republicans "ought to be unbelievably happy with what the president has offered."

"In my judgment, this treaty ought to be able to win with significant votes," Kerry said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "We have to cross the divide here, and this is the first step to prove to the American people that we can work together and get something done."

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