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White House Vows to Pass START This Year Despite Republican Opposition

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, accompanied by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., left, talks about the START Treaty, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 17 Nov 2010

The White House says U.S. President Barack Obama will continue to push for ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia by the end of the year, despite the opposition of a key Senate Republican.

Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday the administration is confident that the New START treaty will come up for a vote in the U.S. Senate before the end of the year and that it will pass.

But the leading Republican negotiator on the issue, Jon Kyl, has resisted the president's push to hold the vote before the new Congress takes office in January with a stronger Republican presence. He says the issue is too complex and that Congress has too much work to do in the meantime.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared Wednesday alongside the top members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to press for passage of the treaty before the end of the year, in the interest of national security.

Chairman Democratic Senator John Kerry and ranking Republican Richard Lugar also called for swift passage. They both noted that since the last treaty expired, nearly a year ago, the United States has not had any inspectors in Russia to observe the country's nuclear arsenal.

Senator Kerry also said since the current Congress negotiated and analyzed the pact, and it has the responsibility to vote on it.

Republicans will have six more seats in the U.S. Senate when the new Congress convenes -- seats that they won from Democrats -- which may make it more difficult for President Obama's Democratic Party to win enough approval to ratify the New START treaty. The pact needs two-thirds approval in the Senate, and also needs to be approved by Russian lawmakers.

Republicans have expressed concern that more needs to be done to maintain and modernize America's nuclear arsenal.

In a statement Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden said based on consultations with Kyl, the administration plans to request an additional $4.1 billion to modernize the U.S. nuclear infrastructure over the next five years. Biden said failure to pass the New START this year would endanger U.S. national security.

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the new agreement in April, committing to cut deployed nuclear weapons by about 30 percent.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow hopes the U.S. Senate will ratify New START by the end of this year.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.