Landmark US-Russia arms treaty clears US Senate hurdle

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A key US Senate committee on Thursday recommended a landmark US-Russia nuclear arms control treaty for ratification, a victory for President Barack Obama over stiff Republican opposition.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee's 14-4 vote set the stage for a final vote by the full Senate, expected after November 2 mid-term elections.

Just three of the panel's Republican members -- Senators Richard Lugar, Bob Corker, and Johnny Isakson -- backed the agreement. Republican Jim DeMint, who had been expected to oppose it, was absent.

Democratic Senator John Kerry, the committee's chairman, said a final ratification "needs to happen as soon as possible" but predicted it would occur after the elections, and forecast that the treaty would win approval.

"I personally believe we will have the votes to ratify this," he told reporters.

That outcome will depend on the Republicans: 67 votes are needed for ratification, Democrats control just 59 seats, and only two of the chamber's 41 Republicans have openly pledged their support for the accord to date.

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

Republicans have said they worry the accord could hamper US missile defense plans -- a charge flatly denied by the Pentagon -- have concerns about Russian implementation, and want assurances about plans to modernize the existing US nuclear arsenal.

The panel approved by voice vote a resolution authored by its top Republican, Senator Richard Lugar, aimed at addressing those concerns, with Republican Senator James Risch the sole "no."

© 2010 AFP

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