"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year. There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress," President Barack Obama said today at a White House meeting of Cabinet and military officials, U.S. senators and secretaries of state and defense in previous administrations.
The Senate must ratify all treaties with foreign governments by a two-thirds vote of 66 senators. But Senate Republicans have said they may not even support consideration of a ratification vote in the current lame duck session.
Currently the Democrats hold 57 seats, the Republicans 41 seats and Independents hold two seats.
"The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high," said President Obama. "The New START treaty responsibly reduces the number of nuclear weapons and launchers that the United States and Russia deploy, while fully maintaining America's nuclear deterrent."
President Barack Obama, center, confers with foreign relations officials of the current and past administrations on ratification of the New START Treaty with Russia. November 18, 2010. (Photo by Chuck Kennedy courtesy The White House)
"If we ratify this treaty, we're going to have a verification regime in place to track Russia's strategic nuclear weapons, including U.S. inspectors on the ground. If we don't, then we don't have a verification regime - no inspectors, no insights into Russia's strategic arsenal, no framework for cooperation between the world's two nuclear superpowers," Obama warned.
He quoted Republican President Ronald Reagan, who said, "'We have to trust, but we also have to verify.' In order for us to verify, we've got to have a treaty," Obama said.
Obama said the New START treaty is "a cornerstone of our relations with Russia" that goes beyond nuclear security to the suppport of sanctions that put pressure on Iran to deal with its nuclear program.
Russia has been critical in supporting American troops in Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network. Russia has been critical in working with the United States to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world, and to enhance European security.
"We cannot afford to gamble on our ability to verify Russia's strategic nuclear arms. And we can't jeopardize the progress that we've made in securing vulnerable nuclear materials, or in maintaining a strong sanctions regime against Iran," said the President. "These are all national interests of the highest order."
Obama stressed that the New START treaty is completely in line with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on this issue. "This is not a Democratic concept; this is not a Republican concept. This is a concept of American national security that has been promoted by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now my administration," he said.
But Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona proved obstinate Wednesday, saying, "When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization."
Senate Majority Senator Harry Reid said Wednesday that there is time on the Senate calendar to get the New START treaty ratified this year.
President Obama has asked Vice President Joe Biden "to focus on this issue day and night until it gets done." Before becoming vice president, Biden was a long-time member and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The first START Treaty of 1991 limited each party to 6,000 strategic warheads attributed to 1,600 deployed delivery vehicles. The Moscow Treaty of 2002 limited each Party to between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed strategic nuclear warheads.
The New START Treaty, which would supersede the Moscow Treaty, contains lower limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles.
To ensure that the New START treaty got a fair hearing, it was submitted to the Senate last spring. There have been 18 hearings on this subject, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported it out favorably in October on a bipartisan vote of 14 to four.
"It has been fully and carefully vetted, and has the full endorsement of our nation's military leadership," said President Obama today. "Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hoss Cartwright is here and will confirm that this is in our national security interests."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Wednesday, "I want to stress this because I'm not sure that everybody really understands that when the prior treaty expired we lost the ability to have inspectors on the ground. We need to get our inspectors back into Russia after a gap of nearly a year."
"As our intelligence and defense colleagues have repeatedly noted, we are much better off with New START than without it. Jim Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said yesterday, the earlier, the sooner, the better. We need the stability, transparency, and predictability that New START will provide by giving us insight into Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal," Clinton said.
From left: Senator John Kerry, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Richard Lugar address reporters, November 17, 2010 (Photo courtesy U.S. State Dept.)
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said, "Here we have a treaty that for the first time provides additional ability to count warheads on both sides. Here we have a treaty that allows us to have a spot random inspection to find out what the other side is doing. But for one year now we have had no inspections, no American boots on the ground in Russia able to protect American interests. And we will not have them on the ground protecting American interests until this treaty is ratified."
Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was noncommittal on the critical issue of bringing ratification to a vote in the lame duck session.
"At this point, it is a voice of the American people that has to inform senators that this treaty must be ratified and must be ratified in this session of the Congress," Lugar told reporters.
"I've supported all the efforts of the President, Senator Kerry, and to work with others in the Republican Party essentially, but we are at a point where we are unlikely to have either the treaty or modernization unless we get real," he said.
President Obama said his administration is "prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that our remaining stockpile and nuclear infrastructure is modernized - which I know is a key concern of many around this table and also many on Capitol Hill."
The White House today released plans to invest more than $85 billion over the next decade to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons complex that supports the American nuclear deterrent.
This represents a $4.1 billion increase over the next five years relative to the plan provided to Congress in May, a level of funding unprecedented since the end of the Cold War.
Senator John Kyl of Arizona (Photo courtesy LANL)
The administration's plans add nearly $600 million in funding for FY 2012, resulting in a total planned FY 2012 budget request of $7.6 billion for National Nuclear Security Administration weapons activities.
President Obama said, "Based on our consultations with Senator Kyl, we've agreed to request an additional $4.1 billion over the next five years," relative to the plan provided to Congress in May.
This increase includes an additional $340 million for a Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee and a Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility in New Mexico.
The Obama plan proposes spending more than $85 billion for NNSA weapons activities over the next decade.
"This is not about politics - it's about national security," said President Obama. "This is not a matter that can be delayed. Every month that goes by without a treaty means that we are not able to verify what's going on on the ground in Russia. And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America's national security will be weakened."
At the White House New START meeting today were a bipartisan group of foreign relations experts: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry; Senator Richard Lugar; former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger; former Secretaries of Defense William Cohen and William Perry; former National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright; and Senator Sam Nunn.
Asked afterwards if the treaty would get the votes necessary to pass the Senate despite some in the minority calling for delay, the President replied "I'm confident that we should be able to get the votes."
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