Key US senator may block Russia nuclear pact

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A key US senator suggested Sunday he would block a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia without weeks of debate, rejecting warnings from President Barack Obama that failure to act would hurt national security.

"It is more a view of reality rather than policy," senator John Kyl told NBC's "Meet the Press," calling for lengthy debate on the details of the new START arms reduction treaty despite a tight calendar for legislative action before the end of the year.

Obama has repeatedly called on senators to quickly ratify the treaty, warning that failure to approve it would result in serious consequences for US security.

Kyl noted that Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is likely to use the final weeks of the year to finalize government spending bills and hammer out a compromise on taxes.

"Theoretically there would be time, but he's made it clear he had a different agenda in mind. They're going to have to set some priorities here."

Last week, the Arizona Republican stunned the White House when he said there would not be enough time during the "lame duck" legislative session, held after November mid-term elections, to pass the treaty.

Leading Democratic Senator Dick Durbin slammed Kyl's position.

"Here is the reality: We live in a dangerous world. The failure of the United States Senate to ratify the START treaty immediately is going to pose a danger to the United States and its security," Durbin told NBC.

"There is no excuse for us to ignore this responsibility."

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Obama 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.

The Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has indicated it will rubber-stamp the treaty only after its ratification in the United States.

The agreement, a top Obama foreign policy initiative, replaces a previous accord that lapsed in December 2009.

"Without ratification this year, the United States will have no inspectors on the ground, and no ability to verify Russian nuclear activities," Obama warned earlier this month.

"Without ratification, we put at risk the coalition that we have built to put pressure on Iran, and the transit route through Russia that we use to equip our troops in Afghanistan," the president continued.

"And without ratification, we risk undoing decades of American leadership on nuclear security, and decades of bipartisanship on this issue. Our security and our position in the world are at stake."

Republicans have said they need to be sure that the US nuclear arsenal will be modernized and that the treaty will not hamper US missile defense efforts -- but some acknowledged privately that they did not want to hand Obama a major diplomatic victory before the elections.

The treaty requires 67 votes to pass the Senate, meaning a minimum of eight Republicans need to back it.

The task of ratifying the accord will be even tougher in January when a new Congress, elected in November 2 polls in which Republicans routed Democrats, takes office.

© 2010 AFP

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