WASHINGTON (CN) - The Senate voted 67 to 28 Tuesday to move forward with a treaty to reduce the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. A final vote could come today; 67 votes are needed for ratification.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START Treaty - an update to the 1991 START treaty that ended the Cold War and expired in December 2009. Under the treaty, the nations will reduce their nuclear warheads by 30 percent - from 2,200 to 1,550 each - in seven years, decrease the number of launchers to 700 and permit inspections of one another's nuclear arms facilities.
"The overwhelming evidence is that the Senate should ratify the treaty," Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said on the Senate floor, adding that ratification was "is in the best of interest of our national security."
The Senate may hold a final vote on the treaty today (Wednesday). The treaty needs two-thirds Senate approval, or 67 votes, to be ratified. It only needed 60 votes on Tuesday to move forward.
Voinovich, along with other Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Bob Bennett of Utah, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia voted with Democrats to end debate.
The New START Treaty was introduced in the Senate in May, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted the treaty out of committee in September by a vote of 14 to 4.
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.
"This is the kind of issue that is outside of politics," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a televised interview Tuesday. "It's really an issue of national security."
Gillibrand added that the treaty would play a key role in how the United States deals with Iran as a nuclear threat.
Alexander, the Republican senator from Tennessee, noted that the last six Republican secretaries of state supported ratification and said inspections of Russian nuclear facilities under the treaty would lead to a "treasure trove" of intelligence.
"I'm convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the New START Treaty than without it," Alexander said in a floor speech. "There is nothing within the treaty itself that would hamper the development or deployment of our missile defense."
The Senate met in a three-hour closed session Monday afternoon to discuss the treaty.
Senate approval of the treaty is a major legislative priority for Obama in the lame-duck session.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates voiced his support for the treaty's ratification in a statement Tuesday.
"The treaty will enhance strategic stability at lower numbers of nuclear weapons, provide a rigorous inspection regime including on-site access to Russian missile silos, strengthen our leadership role in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and provide the necessary flexibility to structure our strategic nuclear forces to best meet national security interests," Gates said. "This treaty stands on its merits, and its prompt ratification will strengthen U.S. national security."
The Senate also voted 79 to 16 on Tuesday to approve funding for the federal government and government programs through March 4, 2011.
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