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Military leaders dismiss Republican objections to arms treaty

By Donna Cassata
Associated Press / December 17, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Military leaders dismissed Republican assertions that a new arms treaty with Russia would hamper America’s missile defense efforts as supporters tried yesterday to nudge the pact toward ratification in the Senate.

President Obama has pushed for approval of the New START accord in Congress’s lame-duck session, a chance for a foreign policy victory to cap a politically difficult year. Conservative Republicans stand in the way, asserting that the United States made too many concessions in negotiations with Russia and that the treaty would limit US defense options.

“They get everything out of it,’’ said Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona. “I don’t know what we get out of it except for the president to say he made another arms control deal with Russia.’’

Countering those arguments, though unlikely to appease some Republicans, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at the White House yesterday that the treaty “in no way limits anything we want or have in mind on missile defense.’’

Marine General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Gates’s assertion, saying New START has “no prohibitions’’ to America’s ability to move forward on missile defense.

“We need START, and we need it badly,’’ Cartwright said.

START stands for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The treaty, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, would limit each country’s strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200, and establish a system for monitoring and verification. Weapons inspections ended a year ago with the expiration of the 1991 arms control treaty.

Supporters, led by Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, are pushing for ratification in the closing days of the year because prospects for passage will dim when Republicans increase their numbers in the Senate by five in January. The Constitution requires approval by two-thirds of the Senate to ratify.

Backers of the pact and the Obama administration were encouraged by a 66-32 vote on Wednesday to move ahead on debate, boosting Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s contention that he has the votes for ratification.

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