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Now to Get New START Through the Senate

At a White House briefing on the “New START” treaty on mutual nuclear weapons reductions with the Russians, senior Obama administration officials pressed the case that there ought to be what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “broad bipartisan support” for the accord, which requires 67 votes in a deeply partisan Senate for ratification. “National security has always produced large bipartisan majorities and I see no reason why this should be different,” Clinton said.

Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary for George W. Bush and as a national security official for most GOP administrations going back to Gerald Ford, repeatedly and personally vouched that the treaty does not constrain any plans for European missile defense — a Republican priority — adding that it might “hopefully make [the Russians] a partner in a European-wide defense capability” at some point in the future. But between the treaty and the administration’s $5 billion request for maintaining the existing U.S. nuclear stockpile, “I think we addressed the concerns that may have been on the Hill.” Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, who helped negotiate the treaty, added that “this is a strategic offensive weapons treaty,” and discussions with the Russians all focused on that — meaning that missile defense isn’t impacted by its provisions — and the schedule for the phased deployment of the missile shield in Romania is similarly unimpacted.

Whether the merits of the treaty will be enough to satisfy Republicans who want to deal Obama a bloody nose on a top priority of his agenda remains to be seen. While the press briefing went on, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement that despite “a partisan breakdown in recent years,” the treaty poses an opportunity to “renew the Senate’s bipartisan tradition on arms control and approve ratification of this new treaty in 2010. I know that can happen.”

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