The United States Senate on Wednesday handed President Barack Obama his second major bipartisan victory during its ongoing lame-duck session when it passed the New START treaty, an arms reduction agreement with Russia.
The treaty was passed by a majority of 71 Senators, with 26 Senators opposing it. The White House had all but given up on its passage under the 111th Congress, after key Republican Senator Jon Kyl refused to support it arguing the treaty was too complex to consider in the limited time available until Congress recessed for the holiday season at the end of December.
Speaking after the treaty was approved, Mr. Obama said: “I am glad that Democrats and Republicans came together to approve my top national security priority for this session of Congress.” He said the New START treaty was “the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades”, and it would make the U.S. safer and reduce its nuclear arsenals along with Russia.
He also highlighted the crucial monitoring and verification functions implied by the treaty, noting that with its passage U.S. inspectors would be back on the ground at Russian nuclear bases to implement the treaty's policy of “trust but verify”.
Mr. Obama also linked the treaty's passage to the U.S.' engagement with Iran, saying the New START would help advance the U.S.' relationship with Russia, which was essential to making progress “on a host of challenges — from enforcing strong sanctions on Iran to preventing nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists”.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also issued a statement in which she said once the treaty entered into force, the resumption of on-site inspections of Russia's strategic nuclear weapons facilities would provide the U.S. with an on-the-ground view of Russia's nuclear forces.
Ms. Clinton added that New START would make it possible for the U.S. and Russia to continue supporting the “reset” in their bilateral relationship and expanding cooperation on a wide range of issues. In a rare gesture she also thanked the former President, George H.W. Bush, and former Secretaries of State who added their support to the treaty.
The New START treaty was initially signed by Mr. Obama and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in April this year. In it, both countries agreed to aggregate limits of 1,550 warheads; a combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile launchers, Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments; and separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
The treaty also came with a verification regime that combined elements of the 1991 START Treaty with new elements tailored to the limitations of the Treaty. In this regard the White House had stated that measures under the new treaty included “on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the Treaty.”