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November 30, 2010

Obama, Colin Powell Urge New START Approval

by Kent Klein

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has joined President Barack Obama in urging the Senate to ratify the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. Powell is the latest Republican to call for a "yes" vote.

As a top official in several Republican administrations, Colin Powell has worked on numerous arms control treaties over the past 25 years.

Powell called on the Senate to ratify New START, as he met with President Obama at the White House Wednesday. He said the treaty will make the world safer, as the previous agreements have.

"As a result of these treaties, we have both benefited, both the Russian Federation now and the United States of America," said Powell. "But the world has benefited by having fewer of these horrible weapons in existence. And we hope that we can continue this process."

If ratified, the New START treaty would limit the United States and Russia to 1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 launchers each.

Under the agreement, both countries would resume inspections of each other's nuclear facilities, which stopped last December when the START One treaty expired. The president says the lack of verification makes approval of the new treaty even more urgent.

"We do not have a verification mechanism to ensure that we know what the Russians are doing," said President Obama. "And they do not know what we are doing. And when you have uncertainty in the area of nuclear weapons, that is a much more dangerous world to live in."

Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty last April in Prague.

Some opposition Republicans in the U.S. Senate are refusing to vote for the agreement, due to concerns about some of its provisions. The president says his administration has addressed those concerns, and it is time for the lawmakers to act.

"We have had 18 separate hearings," said Obama. "We have answered over a thousand questions. We have offered to brief every single Senator, Republican and Democrat, around these issues, but now it is time to get this done."

Reluctant Republicans, led by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, say New START does not provide enough money to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and would weaken American missile defense.

Powell says while the treaty is not ideal, it is more than adequate in those areas.

"The president has indicated to the Senate, and especially to Senator Kyl, that a significant amount of money will be invested in the reliability and modernization of our systems and our facilities," he said. "And that is very, very important."

All 42 Republican Senators Wednesday signed a letter to the Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, saying they will not pass any legislation until a bill to cut taxes is passed.

Mr. Obama said he is confident a tax cut deal can be reached.

Powell has joined four other Republican former secretaries of state, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger and Henry Kissinger, in writing an opinion piece for Thursday's Washington Post newspaper, urging the Senate to ratify New START.

He and the president also discussed North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan.