Obama lines up diplomatic who's who behind START

18th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Barack Obama will join a who's who of American diplomacy at the White House Thursday to press reluctant Republicans to ratify the START treaty with Russia this year.

The bipartisan gathering includes three former secretaries of state, two former defense secretaries, a former national security adviser, and current and former senators.

Obama will "drop by" the meeting, which Vice President Joe Biden arranged "to discuss the new START treaty and why it is in our national interest that the Senate approve it this year," the White House said.

It comes amid fears that the treaty, signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Obama in Prague in April, faces dimming prospects of ratification by the Senate.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed the Senate Wednesday to vote in the year-end "lame-duck" session on the pact, calling it vital to US national security and "critical" to ties with Moscow.

"We can, and we must, go forward now on the new START treaty during the lame-duck session" now under way, she said during a rare public appearance with key lawmakers in the US Capitol. "This treaty is ready to be voted on."

Clinton, who will be at the White House meeting Thursday, vowed to "continue and intensify" talks with Republicans and work "literally around the clock" to address any lingering good-faith objections.

The treaty restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002.

It would also return US inspectors who have been unable to monitor Russia's arsenal since the agreement's predecessor lapsed in December 2009.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted that the treaty will come to a vote in the Senate this year and will be approved.

But it was far from clear that eight Republicans would side with Democrats to give the treaty the 67 votes needed for ratification in the 100-seat chamber and hand President Barack Obama a major foreign policy victory.

The number needed rises to 14 in January when a new Congress, fruit of November 2 elections in which Republicans routed Democrats, takes office.

Republicans repeatedly delayed action on the treaty over the past year and signaled Tuesday they would block a vote until 2011 -- dealing Obama a stinging defeat.

Number-two Republican Senator Jon Kyl said Tuesday he opposed a vote because of "complex and unresolved issues" about "modernization" of the US nuclear arsenal -- ensuring that the US deterrent remains credible.

In response to Kyl's concerns, the White House weeks ago added 4.1 billion dollars over five years to its 10-year budget of 80 billion dollars for that purpose.

Other Republicans want iron-clad assurances the pact will not hamper US missile defense plans, citing a unilateral statement from Moscow that moves on that front risked voiding the treaty.

Joining the White House show of support for the treaty on Thursday are former secretaries of state James Baker, Henry Kissinger, and Madeleine Albright; former defense secretaries William Cohen and William Perry; and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar also was expected to attend with former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, his partner in an ambitious post-Cold War effort to help Russia secure its nuclear arsenal.

On Wednesday, Lugar said delaying ratification of the treaty would be "inexcusable," and reminded Republicans that Moscow still possessed "thousands" of warheads trained on US targets.

© 2010 AFP

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