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GOP Wary of Nuclear Treaty

Bill Clark/Roll Call
A large area of downtown, including Carnegie Library, is within the security perimeter for the Nuclear Security Summit, which starts today. President Barack Obama, who recently signed a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, will join leaders from around the world at the summit.

Senate Republicans say they are willing to block ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that President Barack Obama signed with Russia unless the administration follows through with key policy concessions.

The White House is expected to formally submit the nuclear weapons reduction treaty to the Senate in early May, and Obama wants the document ratified by year’s end. But ratification requires 67 votes, and Senate Republicans and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) have vowed to oppose the treaty unless the administration proposes adequate plans to modernize the nation’s existing nuclear weapons arsenal.

Even if the entire Senate Democratic Conference backs START, eight Republicans would have to support it for ratification.

“The president has to put into place a plan to modernize our nuclear weapons. Until that plan is presented, he won’t see support for the treaty,” a Republican Senate aide said.

Senate Republicans — and Lieberman — have additional concerns, including the details of the treaty itself and aspects of the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. The NPR calls for narrowing the conditions under which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons, which drew negative reactions from several Republicans.

“The Obama administration will need to meet three requirements if it expects favorable consideration of the START follow-on treaty,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a prepared statement. “The Senate will assess whether or not the agreement is verifiable, whether it reduces our nation’s ability to defend itself and our allies from the threat of nuclear armed missiles, and whether or not this administration is committed to preserving our own nuclear triad.”

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the START document Thursday in Prague, and administration officials have begun briefing Senators on the particulars of the treaty. Brian McKeon, who works with the National Security Council under the Office of the Vice President and who is a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chief counsel, is heading the White House effort to ratify the treaty.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated last week that prior arms control treaties have been ratified with huge bipartisan majorities. But he hedged when asked whether he thought the Senate would be able to ratify the treaty before the August recess, saying he anticipates a fight with the Republicans.

“We are hopeful that reducing the threat of nuclear weapons remains a priority for both parties,” Gibbs said Thursday. “We will spend a lot of time and our team will spend a lot of time meeting with individual Senators and individual Senators’ staffs over the next many months to make this happen.”

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