ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
NPR's Mike Shuster has our story.
MIKE SHUSTER: President Obama has made the ratification of the new START treaty his key foreign policy goal before the new Senate is sworn in in January. The president's chief political adviser, David Axelrod, emphasized the treaty's importance yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
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SHUSTER: That's a critical piece for our national security. We need to verify what's going on on the ground in Russia. It'll help us enormously in terms of our cooperation on issues like Iran and North Korea. We have to get it done, we can't delay that. So I'm hopeful that we're going to get a vote on that and I think the support is there for it.
SHUSTER: The administration needs a lot of Republican support. It takes 67 votes to ratify a treaty. The treaty has 58 votes on the Democratic and independent side. That leaves nine Republican votes to get to 67, a heretofore impossible task on major issues. Nevertheless...
SHUSTER: We do see that there is a momentum moving in a good direction.
SHUSTER: That's Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for arms control and one of the chief negotiators of the treaty. Right now, only three Republican senators - Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine - are on record supporting the treaty. But based on various comments that other Republicans have made, there could be as many as eight more Republican votes in favor. More than enough, says Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association, to ratify New START.
SHUSTER: The GOP right now is truly split on New START. You can't say the GOP opposes New START. You've got Republican senators who want to do this. You've got others who don't want to do it.
SHUSTER: Conservative Republicans oppose the treaty because they do not believe it is prudent to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal to the levels called for in the treaty. And because they say the treaty would limit the development of an effective missile-defense system. Advocates for the treaty, like Kimball, say this is a missile-defense-friendly treaty.
SHUSTER: They have alleged that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty will somehow limit U.S. missile defense options. The secretary of defense, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, have rejected that myth.
SHUSTER: Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state, says delaying the ratification debate until next year will delay and likely stymie the treaty for the indefinite future, keeping the U.S. largely blind about Russia's nuclear deployments.
SHUSTER: It's already been a year since we had our inspectors on the ground in the Russian Federation. Once the START treaty went out of force December a year ago, they all had to leave. And we think that two years without inspectors on the ground in Russia, and without the opportunity to exchange data on our nuclear forces, will be a bad thing.
SHUSTER: Mike Shuster, NPR News.
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