The Obama administration is making an impassioned plea for Senate ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia that could reduce arsenals by one-third. Legislative endorsement of the New START treaty is far from assured in an end-of-year congressional session, with Republicans continuing to express misgivings about the pact.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden said failure to ratify the New START treaty would endanger U.S. national security. Without the pact, the vice president said, there will be no Americans on the ground to inspect Russia's nuclear program, and no verified reductions in the two nations' arsenals which, combined, account for 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.
Some Republicans appear unmoved. Asked if the administration has convinced him to vote for ratification, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham had two words:
"Not yet," said Graham.
Graham told VOA he favors arms control, but continues to have concerns about New START.
"I think it would be good to have a treaty," he said. "But this treaty cannot infringe on the ability of the United States to deploy missile defense systems we think are vital to our national security or [that of] our allies. There is some language in the treaty that creates doubts in members' minds. The second hurdle is modernization. Many Republicans like myself believe we would be better off with a treaty than without [but] only if we modernize our nuclear deterrent force."
Under President Barack Obama, the United States has scrapped plans to install missile shield systems in Eastern Europe. Russia has strongly objected to the U.S. missile defense program, despite Washington's assurances that the goal is to block any missiles that potentially could be launched from Iran or North Korea.
In his statement, Vice President Biden said the administration intends to further boost an $80 billion plan to upgrade and modernize America's nuclear infrastructure.
If Republican objections weren't enough, the Senate may also be running out of time to debate and vote on New START in an end-of-year session. Asked about the ticking clock, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, struck a defiant tone.
"This is a treaty involving the security of our country," said Kerry. "And if we do not have time to deal with the security of our country, [then] something is really wrong with the Senate. We have to deal with this. Our relationship with Russia is at stake. Six secretaries of state and five secretaries of defense under [former Presidents] Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Nixon and Ford have all said we should ratify this treaty."
The Democrats' Senate majority will be greatly reduced beginning next year, making ratification even more challenging in the eyes of many analysts.
The Obama administration's all-out effort to secure ratification continues Wednesday, with a planned appearance in the Capitol by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Senator Kerry and a Republican backer of the pact, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.