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Clinton Urges Early Senate Action on Arms Treaty With Russia

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that a Senate delay in ratifying the new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia will "erode" U.S. national security. The treaty, finalized in April, has drawn heavy criticism from Republicans.

In a statement aimed at Republican treaty critics, Clinton says the New-START treaty will neither limit U.S. missile defense efforts nor the modernization of the American nuclear arsenal.

But she says failure to ratify will thwart the United States' ability to monitor Russia's strategic nuclear program, leading to uncertainty and instability.

Clinton's press appearance, with members of the State Department arms control team, reflected administration concern about the fate of the treaty, which has become the target of election-year Republican criticism.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry has delayed a vote on sending the treaty to the full Senate until mid-September with only one Republican, ranking minority member Richard Lugar, publicly supporting it.

The Secretary said the administration will work to resolve lingering questions about the treaty during the current Congressional break.

But she said the committee should act quickly upon return - noting that U.S. monitoring of the Russian nuclear weapons program ended when the previous arms treaty expired last December.

"When the Senate returns, they must act, because our national security is at risk," Clinton said. "There is an urgency to ratify this treaty, because we currently lack verification measures with Russia, which only hurts our national security interests. Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia's nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty. As time passes, uncertainty will increase. With uncertainly comes unpredictability, which when you're dealing with nuclear weapons is absolutely a problem that must be addressed."

Under the new START treaty, each side agreed to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550 and set a limit of 700 operationally deployed strategic nuclear delivery systems such as intercontinental ballistic missiles and heavy bombers.

Clinton stressed support for the new treaty by Republican statesmen and arms control figures, and said she believes in the end, the treaty will get Republican support in the U.S. tradition of bipartisanship on arms control.

"I believe that this treaty is too important, and it will merit the most thoughtful and substantive response from members of the Senate," Clinton said. "It should not, in any way, be caught up in election-year politics. When I look back at the record of overwhelming support, 95-to-nothing, 98-to-three, just an enormous bipartisan commitment to continue arms reduction as a policy that is embraced by both sides of the aisle."

Officials here say they expect other Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee to declare support for the treaty as the September vote approaches.

They are more cautious about a full Senate ratification vote, which will require a two-thirds majority or 67 votes, and whether action is possible before the November Congressional election.