Obama sees vote on START treaty coming soon

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US President Barack Obama said Wednesday he was "confident" that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with Russia would be voted on by US lawmakers before the Christmas break.

Obama said he thought the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which he wants ratified by the end of the year, would be voted on before the US Senate goes into recess in the coming weeks.

"I am confident that we're going to be able to get the START treaty on the floor, debated and completed before we break for the holidays," Obama said after White House talks with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

Earlier, Senate Foreign Affairs committee chairman John Kerry said lawmakers were "trying to work out whatever the best thing is."

"It's really a question of the overall Senate schedule. We're trying to work through when the tax bill would come, there's a lot going on," Kerry said after talks with number-two Senate Republican Jon Kyl.

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.

The Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has indicated it will ratify the treaty only after its ratification by the US Senate.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned in an interview with CNN television last week that Moscow would likely build up its arsenal if the accord fails.

But the treaty needs the support of more than two-thirds of the US Senate in order to pass.

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.

Kyl had earlier pledged to block action on the accord this year, citing modernization worries.

The White House has worked for months to ease what Republicans say are their concerns: That the treaty may handcuff US missile defense plans, and that more money is needed to ensure that the US nuclear arsenal stays up to date.

It has enlisted support from heavyweight politicians such as former US secretary of state Colin Powell to try to sway Republicans.

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."

It is not completely clear when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will call the Christmas holidays recess, but most senators hoping to be able to leave for their home states well before Christmas Eve, on December 24.

© 2010 AFP

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