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Obama pushes arms treaty approval

By Alan Silverleib, CNN
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Obama confident on START treaty votes
  • Obama urges quick Senate ratification of the new arms control treaty
  • Obama is joined at a meeting on the treaty by several former secretaries of state and defense
  • Ten GOP senators-elect urge Majority Leader Harry Reid to delay consideration of the treaty
  • The next Senate will be more Republican and is considered to be less favorable towards the treaty

Vice President Joe Biden weighs in on the GOP's control of the House and his role in shaping Iraq's future on "Larry King Live," 9 ET tonight on CNN.

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama urged the lame duck Senate to quickly ratify the new arms control treaty with Russia, arguing that the United States cannot "afford to gamble" on the need to effectively monitor that country's nuclear stockpile.

"The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high," he said. "This is not a matter that can be delayed."

Obama called the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) a "cornerstone" of relations between Russia and the United States and "completely in line" with a long tradition of bipartisan cooperation on arms control.

The president insisted he's confident his administration will round up the 67 Senate votes needed for ratification of the treaty.

Obama made his remarks during a White House meeting about the treaty with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the committee.

Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger were also in attendance, along with former National Security Adviser General Brent Scowcroft and former Secretaries of Defense William Cohen and William Perry.

Former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, a top nuclear arms control expert, also joined the meeting.

If approved, the treaty would restart mutual inspections while limiting the United States and Russia to 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers each.

Ten Republican senators-elect, however, moved to counter the White House push, sending a letter Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, urging a delay in consideration of the treaty until the new Congress convenes early next year.

Clinton: START Treaty critical for U.S.

"One of the most important tasks of the 112th Congress will be to carefully consider measures that protect the national security of the United States," they wrote. "And few matters will more directly impact our security than arms control agreements like New START that would dramatically reduce the U.S. nuclear deterrent in a strategic environment that is becoming ever more perilous."

They noted that no arms control treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union or Russia has ever been ratified during a lame duck session.

The incoming Senate will be more Republican and conservative, and it is considered less likely to produce the votes necessary for ratification.

Earlier this week, Democrats were caught off guard when Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the Republican point man for Senate negotiations over the treaty, said he told Reid the accord should not be considered before January, when the new Congress is seated.

Kyl cited the current congressional workload and concerns over modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as two of the reasons why Senate consideration of the treaty should be delayed.

The White House, which has already committed $80 billion to nuclear modernization efforts, recently promised to spend $4 billion in an effort to win the support of Kyl and other conservatives.

"We're talking. In good faith," Kyl told CNN Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Clinton visited Senate leaders on Capitol Hill to warn that a failure to ratify the treaty would create a far more unstable international political climate while undermining America's relationship with Russia. She noted that no American inspectors have been able to inspect the Russian nuclear arsenal since the expiration of the old arms control treaty last December.

Clinton was joined by Kerry and Lugar, who helped push the treaty through the Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year with a bipartisan 14 to 4 vote.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen also weighed in Wednesday, stating that the U.S. military leadership supports the treaty's ratification. "I hope we can do that as rapidly as possible," he said.

Seventy-three percent of Americans believe the Senate should ratify the treaty, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday. Twenty-three percent are opposed to its approval.

Russia has not approved the measure yet.