Clinton Sees GOP Backing For START Treaty

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is sounding more confident that enough Republicans will support a new arms control treaty with Russia.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is central to the Obama administration's reset of relations with Moscow and its overall nuclear strategy, but the ratification process has been an uphill battle. Clinton is making a final push.

"When the Senate returns, they must act," Clinton told reporters at the State Department on Wednesday.

Clinton argued that U.S. national security interests are at stake.

"There is an urgency to ratify this treaty, because we currently lack verification measures with Russia," Clinton said. "Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia's nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty."

The treaty would cut each side's deployed nuclear forces to 1,550 warheads, down from roughly 2,200 each now.

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the new START agreement in April. Since then, advocates have lined up a long and impressive list of bipartisan supporters, from former secretaries of state and defense to former officials who oversaw U.S. nuclear forces. Still, facing opposition, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee put off a vote until mid-September.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, has been trying to help shepherd the new START treaty through the Senate. But other Republicans on the committee, including Bob Corker of Tennessee, have raised concerns that the pact could limit U.S. missile defense plans and the U.S. ability to modernize its nuclear arsenal.

Clinton denies that and has promised Republicans that the U.S. will invest $80 billion over the next decade to maintain U.S. nuclear security. But Corker says there is still a $10 billion funding shortfall.

"Look, we can reduce the amount of warheads we have as long as we know that they work, right? Right now, we are in a situation where the life of these warheads and the life of some of our delivery systems are being depleted," Corker said in an interview with NPR. "So, there has to be additional investment made to modernize those."

Corker is also working on a Senate resolution that would make clear that the new START treaty wouldn't limit U.S. missile defense.

"We are working toward getting the language right, we are working toward getting the appropriate commitments on modernization," he said, adding the administration shouldn't "rush this."

The congressional agenda is likely to be crowded this fall, and advocates of the treaty fear the new START could fall victim to party politics.

Clinton argued it is too important to "get caught up in election-year politics." In the past, she noted, arms-control treaties have been passed with broad bipartisan support.

"I believe that the vast majority of senators will judge this treaty on the merits," Clinton said.

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