WASHINGTON — Senate failure to ratify a new arms control treaty with Russia threatens to undermine the U.S. relationship with Moscow and stall progress in waging the Afghanistan war and confronting Iran’s nuclear program, President Barack Obama said Saturday.
Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to plead with the Senate to approve the accord in the waning days of Congress’ postelection session.
“Ratifying a treaty like START isn’t about winning a victory for an administration or a political party,” the president said. “It’s about the safety and security of the United States of America.”
The White House and Senate Democratic leaders have expressed confidence about prospects for ratification. The treaty requires a two-thirds vote in the 100-member Senate and its fate is uncertain.
“Without a new treaty, we’ll risk turning back the progress we’ve made in our relationship with Russia, which is essential to enforce strong sanctions against Iran, secure vulnerable nuclear materials from terrorists and resupply our troops in Afghanistan,” Obama said.
Senators have a crowded to-do list that Obama wants to see completed before Congress breaks for the holidays, and time is running out. Lawmakers debated the treaty into the night Friday. Republicans raised concerns that it would limit U.S. missile defense options; the White House strongly disputes that.
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. U.S. weapons inspections ended a year ago with the expiration of the 1991 arms control treaty.
All 58 senators in the Democratic caucus are expected to back the treaty, but it needs Republican commitments to reach the necessary 67 votes. Some Republicans are supportive, but others have reservations, despite entreaties from the Pentagon and prominent Republicans outside Congress, including former President George H.W. Bush.
“Every minute we drag our feet is a minute that we have no inspectors on the ground at those Russian nuclear sites,” Obama said. “It’s time to get this done.”
Republicans used their weekly address to tell voters they “got the message” of the November midterm elections that greatly increased the GOP’s ranks in Congress. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who heads the Senate Republican campaign committee, said his party is using its increased leverage to rein in government spending and prevent tax increases through the package signed by Obama on Friday that extends Bush-era tax cuts for all.
“This bipartisan agreement was made possible because voters gave Republicans much more leverage at the negotiating table,” Cornyn said. “Our leverage forced the White House to abandon its `class-warfare’ rhetoric, stop pandering to the president’s left-wing base and do the right thing for American taxpayers and job creators.”