Top US Senator 'confident' in nuclear treaty vote
Democratic US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday he was confident that lawmakers would act this year on a landmark nuclear arms control treaty with Russia despite Republican opposition.
"I think if we set our mind to it, we can get it done," Reid told reporters, amid behind-the-scenes negotiations aimed at clearing a path for ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
Asked whether he felt those talks were making progress, Reid replied: "The answer is, yes, I feel that. But as far as being able to hear anything that we have things worked out on it, the answer is no at this stage."
Republicans have vowed to block action on the treaty this year, seeking ironclad assurances that the treaty would not handcuff US plans to deploy a missile defense system and calling for billions of dollars to pay for upkeep of Washington's nuclear arsenal.
But some have also privately said over the past few months that they aim to deny President Barack Obama what would be a major diplomatic victory.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Democrat, said early Thursday that negotiations were making progress towards unlocking Republican opposition and setting the stage for a vote.
"And we're certainly going to work in good faith to try to make that happen in the next days, hours," he said.
Number-two Senate Republican Jon Kyl, his party's point man on the issue, has pledged to block action on the accord this year, citing modernization worries.
The White House plans to spend 85 billion dollars over ten years to refurbish US atomic weapons.
The 100-seat Senate currently counts 56 Democrats and two independents who vote with them, and ratification requires 67 votes. Republicans hold 42 seats now but that number will rise to 47 when a new Congress arrives in January.
The agreement, a key part of Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with Moscow, 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 agreement, which has broad US public support, would also return US inspectors who have been unable to monitor Russia's arsenal since the agreement's predecessor lapsed in December 2009.
The Russian lower house of parliament has indicated it will ratify the treaty only after the US Senate acts.
© 2010 AFP