In a blow to President Barack Obama’s hopes of winning quick approval of a nuclear arms control pact with Russia, a key Republican senator said Tuesday that he does not think it should be considered this year.
Sen. Jon Kyl cited a busy Senate agenda and the complexity of the treaty. Kyl has been the leading Republican senator on the treaty issue and Democrats are unlikely to be able to move forward without his support.
Obama has been pushing to get enough Republican support for a vote before the Democratic majority shrinks by six in January. He has called the treaty a top priority.
Last week the administration sought to satisfy Kyl’s conditions for supporting the treaty with a proposal to significantly boost funding for the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. A congressional aide briefed on White House plans told The Associated Press last week that the White House was proposing to add $4.1 billion that would go to maintaining and modernizing the arsenal and the laboratories that oversee that effort. U.S. government officials traveled to Kyl’s home state to make the proposal.
In a statement Tuesday, Kyl suggested that the offer had not resolved the issue.
“When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization,” he said.
Kyl said that he had spoken with Reid Monday night. The Republican senator’s support is crucial because a number of his Republican colleagues have said they will follow his lead on the treaty. So his approval could push support beyond the 67 votes the administration needs for ratification.
Kyl has maintained that boosting funding for the stockpile would ease Republican concerns about the treaty by demonstrating that the administration is serious about maintaining a robust U.S. nuclear deterrent. The treaty would reduce U.S. and Russian limits on strategic warheads to 1,550 for each country from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would set up new procedures to allow both countries to inspect each other’s arsenals to verify compliance.
Some Republicans have argued that the treaty would limit U.S. missile defense options and does not provide adequate procedures to verify that Russia is living up to its terms. Advocates dispute both charges.
The administration is worried that ratification could slip out of reach if a vote were delayed until next year.
Failure to win passage could trip up one of the administration’s top foreign policy goals: improving relations with Russia. The treaty, signed in April by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, has been the most tangible sign of success, and failure to get it ratified could be viewed as a rebuke in Moscow. It also would leave Obama’s push for even greater restrictions on the world’s nuclear arsenal in doubt.