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Leading Republican Senators Voice Opposition to START Treaty

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William Ide

Leading Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate voiced opposition on Sunday to a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, raising doubts that the accord might not be ratified during the final days of the current Congress.  But Vice President Joe Biden and leading Democratic lawmakers say they are confident the Senate will ratify the agreement before the end of the year.  

A vote in the U.S. Senate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START accord, is expected within days and lawmakers held a rare session on Sunday to debate the treaty's passage.

Some leading Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition to the pact.  Republican support is needed to garner the 67 votes necessary for ratification in the 100 member Senate.

Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CBS television's Face the Nation program that if the Obama administration wants to ratify the accord, it should think about starting over during the next session of Congress in January.

"We still haven't funded the government.  We haven't had a serious debate on START.  We've been fighting a multiple front war to try to do every special interest group's bidding in the lame-duck session.  That's not a way to ratify a treaty that has importance to the country," he said.

Before his comments on Sunday, Graham had been considered likely to support the treaty.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, voiced concern on CNN's State of the  Union  program, saying the treaty would limit U.S. missile defense options.  He said that trying to ram the treaty through the Senate before the Christmas holiday recess was not a way to win support from him and other Republican lawmakers.

How many Republicans McConnell might be able to sway to vote against the treaty is unclear.

President Barack Obama is urging the Senate to ratify the New START treaty with Russia before the end of the legislative session, saying that Senate approval of the accord is an urgent national priority.

Vice President Joe Biden told NBC television's Meet the Press program that he believes there is enough support to ratify the pact. "Every former Republican secretary of defense, secretary of state, national security advisor and head of Strategic Command says this is essential for U.S. security," he said.

Speaking on CBS television's Face the Nation program, Michigan Democrat Senator Carl Levin said Republican concerns about missile defense are an attempt to create an argument where none exists. "The most important thing here is that our top military leadership strongly support the START treaty and says there are no restrictions, no limitations whatsoever on missile defense," he saidl.

The New START treaty was signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April.  If ratified, it would limit the United States and Russia to roughly 1,500 deployed long-range nuclear warheads each, and 700 delivery systems such as intercontinental ballistic missiles and heavy bombers.

The New START Treaty still needs to be ratified by the Russian Parliament, something experts say will likely happen.

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