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McConnell Refuses to Back Nuclear Weapons Treaty

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Updated: 12:08 p.m.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will not support the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty over concerns that its missile defense language will restrict the United States and that its verification provisions are inadequate, he said Sunday.

The Kentucky Republican was one of several Senators to discuss the treaty with Russia during the Sunday morning talk shows. Although McConnell declined during his appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” to predict whether enough Republicans would join Democrats to support the bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that ratification would not be approved in the lame-duck session and that the Senate should start over on the treaty in the 112th Congress.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) joined several Democrats on Sunday in predicting there are enough votes in the chamber supporting it.

The votes of two-thirds of Senators, 67 votes in the full chamber, are needed to approve ratification of a treaty, and Democrats will need the support of nine Republicans if every Senator who caucuses with the Democrats votes in favor.

Republicans have complained that the deal will constrain the nation’s ability to develop missile defense systems, but in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell on Saturday, President Barack Obama dismissed those complaints.

“I know the administration actually sent a letter up yesterday indicating they’re committed to missile defense, but an equally important question is how do the Russians view missile defense, and how do our European allies view missile defense? And I’m concerned about it,” McConnell said.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the key Republican negotiator on the treaty, said Sunday that if the president is committed to missile defense, he should “tell it to the Russians.” In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Kyl said he would “absolutely” vote against the treaty if no changes are made.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry argued Sunday that the treaty’s language puts no restraint on the nation’s missile defense capacity.

“The important thing is, the Russians wanted to have a binding statement precluding us from having missile defense. There is nothing in there that restricts our missile defense system,” the Massachusetts Democrat said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The president made that crystal clear in a letter he sent to the leadership. ... Within the four corners of the treaty, there is zero restriction on U.S. missile defense.”

Lugar, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, said on “This Week” that not ratifying the treaty presents “a very bad picture” for national security. Continued U.S. inspections of Russian nuclear stores and a cooperative stance against nuclear development in Iran and North Korea would be two important outcomes of the treaty, the Indiana Republican said.

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