Obama enlists Colin Powell in START pitch

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US President Barack Obama on Wednesday enlisted retired general and former secretary of state Colin Powell to press his fellow Republicans to ratify a landmark arms control treaty with Russia.

"I fully support this treaty and I hope that the Senate gives its advice and consent for the ratification of the treaty as soon as possible," Powell said during a brief joint public appearance with Obama at the White House.

Powell, a veteran of 25 years of nuclear arms control pacts between Moscow and Washington, stressed "the world has benefited by having fewer of these horrible weapons in existence, and we hope that we can continue this process.

The popular retired general's comments came as his fellow Republicans in the US Senate blocked action on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which Obama wants ratified by the end of the year.

Taking aim at there stated concerns, Powell said the treaty included verification mechanisms that were "more than adequate to make sure that we know what they are doing and they know what we are doing."

Echoing the message of every top uniformed official at the Pentagon, he denied that US missile defense plans were in any way constrained by the accord, and underlined Obama's plans for modernizing the nuclear arsenal.

Number-two Senate Republican Jon Kyl has blocked action on the accord this year, citing modernization worries.

The White House plans to spend 85 billion dollars over ten years to refurbish US atomic weapons.

The 100-seat Senate currently counts 56 Democrats and two independents who vote with them, and ratification requires 67 votes. Republicans hold 42 seats now but that number will rise to 47 when a new Congress arrives in January.

The agreement, a key part of Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with Moscow, restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002, and 800 launchers and bombers.

The agreement, which has broad US public support, would also return US inspectors who have been unable to monitor Russia's arsenal since the agreement's predecessor lapsed in December 2009.

© 2010 AFP

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