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US Defense Department Backs Quick Ratification of New START Treaty with Russia

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Chris Simkins

Top Pentagon officials on Wednesday urged U.S. lawmakers to ratify a new nuclear weapons treaty with Russia. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty last April in Prague, to replace a 1991 treaty between their two countries.

Defense Department Undersecretary James Miller told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the new START treaty will not limit the U.S. from developing a missile defense system to guard against missile attacks by Iran, North Korea or any other country.

"The new START treaty does not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses as possible nor does it add any additional cost or inconvenience. It enables this president and his successors to develop the missile defenses needed to defend the nation, our deployed forces abroad and our allies and partners from the threat of ballistic missile attacks," said Miller.

The treaty, if ratified by both sides, would reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals by 30 percent, leaving each side with about 1,500 strategic nuclear weapons. But opposition Republican Party Senator James Risch expressed doubts. He asked Patrick O'Reilly, the director of the missile defense agency, if Russia believed that under the treaty the U.S. could not defend itself or its allies using certain missile defense systems.  

RISCH: "Would you agree with me that is what that unilateral statement says?"
O' REILLY: "My understanding of the statement is that we would not develop a ballistic missile systems to counter their strategic balance of forces with us. The treaty does not limit my ability to develop the most cost effective missile defense as possible."

The Pentagon officials also told lawmakers that the longer it takes Washington to ratify the new arms control treaty with Moscow, the greater the uncertainty with understanding Russia's strategic weapons systems.

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