Clinton urges US Senate vote on nuclear treaty

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the US Senate Wednesday to vote this year on a landmark nuclear arms treaty with Russia, warning US national security and ties with Moscow were at stake.

"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 vowed to "continue and intensify" talks with Republicans now holding up a vote on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and work "literally around the clock" to address any lingering good-faith objections.

The White House needs eight Republicans to reach the 67 Senate votes needed for ratification, but that figure will run up to 14 when a new Congress convenes in January as a result of the November 2 elections.

Republicans repeatedly delayed action on the treaty over the past year and signaled Tuesday that they would block a vote until 2011 -- handing President Barack Obama a stinging foreign policy defeat.

The START treaty -- signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Obama 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.

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

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.

The White House, which had budgeted some 80 billion dollars over ten years for that purpose, added another 4.1 billion dollars over five years at Kyl's request.

Other Republicans want ironclad assurances that the pact will not hamper US missile defense plans fiercely opposed by Russia, and some say privately they want to defeat one of Obama's top foreign policy priorities.

In a show of impatience with Kyl, Clinton criticized lawmakers who "have suggested we should hit the pause button, that it is too difficult to do this treaty in a lame-duck session."

"This is exactly what the American people expect us to do, to come together and do what is necessary to protect our country," she said, flanked by Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

She also called the accord "critical" to improving ties with Russia, where the lower house of parliament, the Duma, awaits US ratification to launch its own process of approving the accord.

Lugar, a lifelong champion of arms control efforts and supporter of the treaty, sternly upbraided his fellow Republicans and warned "to temporize at this point I think is inexcusable."

"We're talking today about the national security of the United States of America," he said. "We're at a point where we're unlikely to have either the treaty or modernization unless we get real."

Lugar expressed disbelief that lawmakers would be "deeply concerned about North Korea and Iran" while forgetting that Moscow still possessed "thousands" of warheads trained on US targets.

"As of now, there is no substantive disagreement on this treaty," said Kerry, who blamed delays on "a question about money out 10 years into the future for modernization."

Kerry pleaded with colleagues to "leave politics at the water's edge" and stressed: "I refuse to believe that the door shouldn't remain open; that we can't find the good faith to negotiate on behalf of our country."

© 2010 AFP

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