WASHINGTON – Key Senate Republicans reflected divisions in the party Sunday over ratifying a new treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons before year’s end.
Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s more optimistic now about GOP backing for the agreement, which President Barack Obama says is key to cutting the most dangerous weapons in the arsenals of both countries and promoting better relations with Russia.
But Sen. Jon Kyl, who has been demanding concessions from the administration, including major funding for the American nuclear arsenal, said that he did not believe his concerns could be overcome in the remaining weeks of the lame-duck session of Congress.
The new START treaty was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April and needs the support of 67 of 100 senators to be ratified.
While Lugar supports the treaty and is a respected foreign policy voice in the Senate, Kyl has a strong following among conservative Republicans who are following his lead on the pact, which is meant to replace a U.S.-Russia treaty that expired in 2009.
Obama says it is essential to U.S. security and the direction of his foreign policy more broadly. He has publicly rallied support for the treaty from former Republican secretaries of state and defense. He wants it approved in the lame-duck session, most likely, to prevent the larger Republican minority in the incoming Senate from further delaying a vote on deep cuts in both U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. It also would return U.S. inspectors to Russia to ensure compliance.
The Senate Foreign Relations committee has approved the measure and recommended passage in the upper chamber.
On Sunday, Lugar told CNN television he believed there was “strong bipartisan support” for a lame-duck vote and that he thinks “the votes are there.”
But he said Democrats would first have to deal with GOP demands that Bush-era income tax cuts be extended and legislation passed to fund government spending in the current federal fiscal year.
Kyl said flatly that chances of new START ratification this year were dim.
“There is not time to do it in the lame duck,” the Arizona Republican told CBS television.