Top Republican to vote against US-Russia nuclear pact

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The leading Republican in the US Senate vowed Sunday to vote against a nuclear arms control pact with Russia that is one of President Barack Obama's top foreign policy priorities.

"I've decided that I cannot support the treaty. I think the verification provisions are inadequate and I do worry about the missile defense implications of it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN.

Leading Democrats attacked McConnell for opposing the weapons reduction measure, which Obama's allies say has the sufficient votes to pass the Senate.

The chamber continued debate Sunday after lawmakers beat back an attempt by Obama's Republican foes to torpedo the accord, which is supported by virtually every present and past US foreign policy or national security heavyweight.

Top Democratic Senator Harry Reid chided McConnell for opposing the treaty, which restricts Russia and the United States to a maximum of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002.

"I have great respect for the Republican leader but am deeply disappointed that he has decided to oppose the New START Treaty," Reid, the Senate majority leader, said in a statement.

"Respected Republican leaders including president George H.W. Bush, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have joined our united military leadership, including Secretary of Defense (Robert) Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral (Mike) Mullen, to call for ratification of this agreement."

John Kerry, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also called McConnell's decision "disappointing," given the overwhelming support for the deal by "the entire Republican foreign policy national security experienced statesmen group."

He also took McConnell to task for stalling on New START in the days before the Senate's Republican minority grows substantially in the next congressional session, following last month's elections.

Senators voted Saturday to reject an amendment by Republican Senator John McCain to strip out language in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty's (New START) preamble tying offensive nuclear weapons to defensive systems.

The preamble is non-binding but, because it resulted from talks between Washington and Moscow, passing the amendment would have forced the accord back to the negotiating table, effectively killing the agreement.

© 2010 AFP

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