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US Lawmakers Divided Over Weapon Treaty with Russia

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is urging the Senate to ratify the nuclear arms reduction treaty that Washington reached with Moscow earlier this year. But some lawmakers have concerns about the pact.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Delaware Democrat Joe Biden, predicts the Senate will endorse the treaty signed by President Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in May.

"I expect the committee and indeed the full Senate, in my view, will support this treaty, as on balance I believe it clearly enhances our national security," said Mr. Biden.

The pact would cut U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals by two-thirds, to between 1,700 and 2,200, over the next decade. But some senators say the pact is short on verification and compliance guarantees.

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the committee, says he is concerned that the treaty does not require the parties to destroy nuclear warheads taken out of service.

It is a concern shared by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. "I would like to reiterate my view that meaningful arms reduction can only be achieved by dismantling and destroying those weapons," he said.

But Secretary Rumsfeld argued there is good reason for not destroying those warheads.

"The reason to keep, rather than destroy, some of those decommissioned warheads is to have them available in the event of a problem with safety or reliability in our arsenal," he explained. "Since we do not have an open production line, it would be simply mindless for U.S. to destroy all of those warheads, and then not have them for the back up in the event that we run into safety or reliability problems, or indeed a sudden unexpected change in the global security environment."

Senator Feingold also took issue with a provision in the accord that allows either side to abandon the pact with three-months notice, and without explanation. He called on the administration to consult with the Senate if it ever considers withdrawing from the accord, something he says the administration did not do adequately before it pulled out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty earlier this year.