Clinton: Republicans seeing merits of nuclear treaty
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday there was a "growing willingness" by Republicans to see the merits of a landmark nuclear pact with Russia as Senators debated whether to ratify it.
Democratic leaders are racing to get the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) endorsed by the chamber before the Christmas break, despite opposition and delaying tactics by some key Republicans.
But the Senate has now formally taken up debate on the treaty, following a procedural vote on Wednesday which suggested the pact may be within striking distance of the 67 votes needed in the 100-seat chamber to be ratified.
"We have good reason to believe that there is a growing willingness on the Republican side to look at the merits of this treaty," Clinton said at the White House.
Clinton said the pact was vital to America's security and the effort by the Obama administration to reset the US relationship with Russia.
General James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also strongly endorsed START.
"We need START and we need it badly," Cartwright said.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, joining Clinton and Cartwright at a White House briefing on a new Afghan war policy review, said that there had been some Republican misunderstandings, partly on START's implications on US missile defense plans.
"I think that there were some legitimate concerns, but, frankly, I think they've been addressed," he said.
The agreement -- which has the support of virtually every present and former US foreign policy or national security heavyweight -- restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002, and 800 launchers and bombers.
The accord would also return US inspectors who have been unable to monitor Russia's arsenal since the treaty's predecessor lapsed in December 2009.
Some Republicans have shrugged off marquee support for the pact from inside their party and called for delaying action until a new Congress convenes in January, while readying a battery of "treaty-killer" amendments behind the scenes.
© 2010 AFP