WASHINGTON (CN) – Several Senate Republicans on Monday opposed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START Treaty, saying the Senate should amend it and send it back to the Russians to reapprove.
“Unless you think the U.S. Constitution is really stupid to give the Senate a role in this, it doesn’t seem there’s anything wrong with the Senate saying, ‘You got about nine-tenths of it right,’ ” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., arguing that the White House did not consider Senate recommendations when negotiating the original treaty. “[T]he Senate should not be a rubber stamp,” he said.
The New START Treaty, signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, will reduce the number of nuclear warheads held by the United States and Russia by 30 percent – from 2,200 to 1,550 each – in seven years. It will also reduce the number of launchers held by each country to 700 and enable the United States and Russia to inspect each other’s nuclear arms facilities. The agreement is an update to the 1991 Start treaty that ended the Cold War.
The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote on Tuesday to cut off debate.
Kyl said if the Russians backed out of the treaty because a “modest change” was made, then the relationship between the United States and Russia “is a lot weaker than the president and vice president make it out to be,” arguing that the two countries may not have adequately reset their relations. “The U.S. Senate is the last word in this according to the U.S. Constitution.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., complained that Obama and Senate Democrats were rushing to ratify the treaty. “It is unfortunate that something as important as the Senate’s consideration of a treaty like this one was truncated in order to meet another arbitrary deadline or the wish list of the liberal base,” McConnell said.
“No senator should be forced to make decisions like this so we can tick off another item on someone’s political check list before the end of the year.”
Republicans have argued that the treaty preamble contains language that would allow Russia to withdraw from the agreement if the United States ramped up its missile defense.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which voted the treaty out of committee by a vote of 14 to 4, denied that the treaty was being rushed.
“We’ve been on this treaty for a year and a half, not just for six days,” Kerry said. He added that Senate Democrats wanted to debate the treaty before midterm elections, but Republicans asked the debate to be delayed, complaining that holding it before elections would politicize the treaty.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., argued that the vote was urgent because of the threat of terrorism.
The Senate debated two amendments on Monday related to weapons facilities inspections and launchers.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., proposed an amendment to raise the number of short-notice inspections of nuclear weapons facilities to 54 per year instead of 18.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D, proposed an amendment to increase the number of deployed launchers allowed by each country to 720 from 700.
“I have concerns about what’s there for verification. I have concerns about missile defense,” said Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., arguing that if the Russian legislature would refuse to look at an amendment to the treaty, “then we are not fulfilling much of a function.”
The Senate met in a closed session Monday afternoon to discuss the treaty.