Key US Senate panel to vote on new START treaty by August

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A key US Senate committee will vote on a landmark nuclear arms treaty with Russia before lawmakers leave for their monthlong August break, the panel's top two members said Thursday.

"We plan to hold a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the New START Treaty prior to the August recess," said the panel's chairman, Democratic Senator John Kerry.

Kerry said he and Senator Richard Lugar, the committee's top Republican, "are confident that our colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join us in supporting the treaty to strengthen our national security."

Approval by the panel would set the stage for action by the entire US Senate, where 67 votes are needed for ratification, a process US President Barack Obama has said he would like to see completed in 2010.

Obama's Democratic allies and their two independent allies control only 59 votes, meaning the treaty's backers will need to rally at least eight Republicans to approve the pact.

"This timeline for committee consideration is imperative so that we can restart inspections, invigorate our relationship with Russia and continue our leadership in global nonproliferation," said Lugar.

Lugar, widely hailed as a champion of efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and materials, said the panel would address "legitimate and important concerns expressed by senators."

Some Republican senators have indicated they are inclined to back the pact but say they worry about the effects on the US nuclear deterrent and that they want to energize work at national nuclear laboratories to ensure the safety and reliability of the US arsenal.

The accord, which Obama and Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in a landmark ceremony in Prague in April, commits the two former Cold War foes to slashing their nuclear arsenals.

Each nation will be allowed a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, about 30 percent lower than a limit set in 2002. They are also restricted to 700 air, ground and submarine-launched nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.

© 2010 AFP

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