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August 03, 2010

Kerry postpones vote on new nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia

Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had been planning on holding a vote on the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia before the Senate's recess begins on Aug. 9.

Kerry, however, announced today that he had agreed to postpone the vote to give Republican members more time to review materials associated with the treaty, including yet-to-be-delivered reports from the Senate armed services and intelligence committees.

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medevdev signed the accord in April. It would set new limits of 1,550 warheads and 800 delivery vehicles - land- and sea-based missiles and heavy bombers - and activate a revised monitoring and verification system. The old system expired with the expiration in December 2009 of the 1991 START treaty between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Some Republicans have expressed opposition to the New START treaty, concerned that it could impose limits on U.S. missile defenses, a fear that numerous current and former top U.S. diplomats, military officers and non-proliferation experts have repeatedly dismissed.

Hard-line GOP nuclear weapons policy guru Senator John Kyl of Arizona has also indicated that he and other conservative Republicans may withhold their votes if House Democrats refused to restore a cut they have made in Obama's proposed hefty increase in modernization funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Kerry, who has held one dozen open and classified hearings on the new treaty, said he has enough votes to send the accord to the full Senate, where it requires the support of 67 members.

"However, in consultation with Senator (Richard) Lugar (of Indiana), I chose to reschedule the vote to be responsive to the concerns of our members so that we can build a bipartisan consensus around a treaty that our military leaders all agree with make America safe," Kerry said in a statement.

Kerry did not give a firm date for a vote, saying that he would hold one "soon after we return from recess" on Sept. 12.

One question, however, is whether the full Senate will hold a vote before it takes off in mid-September again so members up for re-election in November can campaign. And then the question will be whether the Republicans win enough new seats to deny Obama approval of a treaty widely seen as his most successful foreign policy achievement to date.

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"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

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