Top US senator: No nuclear treaty vote before elections

14th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The US Senate should put off its final vote on a landmark nuclear arms control treaty until after November legislative elections, the senior US lawmaker leading the ratification effort said Tuesday.

"I think that to push it in the next week or two would be a mistake given the election," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, whose panel was set to vote on the pact on Thursday.

"Let's just get it out of the committee and hopefully set it up to do without any politics, without any election atmospherics, as a matter of national security when we come back in the lame duck," said the Democrat, referring to the legislative session after the elections.

Kerry warned colleagues reluctant to back the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, was watching how US lawmakers handle ratification of the accord.

"The Duma is waiting. (Russian) President (Dmitry) Medvedev said this to me personally, that they're waiting to see what happens here and how the treaty is treated in the United States," said Kerry. "We have to be sensitive to that."

Ratification requires 67 votes in the Senate. Democrats and their two independent allies hold 59 seats, meaning they cannot approve START without Republican support.

The top Republican on Kerry's committee, Senator Richard Lugar, worked over a six-week August break to craft a resolution addressing the party's main concerns -- chiefly worries about the fate of US missile defense programs and plans for modernizing the existing US arsenal.

The treaty -- signed by Medvedev and US President Barack Obama at an elaborate ceremony in Prague in April -- restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002.

Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been working to win over wary Republicans "over the last weeks," said Kerry.

When the treaty finally reaches the senate floor for a full ratification vote, "it could be done in a matter of two days, it could be less, it might take three," the Massachusetts Democrat added, expressing confidence lawmakers would approve it.

"I think the record will be so clear and so extensive that most questions will have been answered."

© 2010 AFP

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