WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama rallied support for a stalled nuclear treaty from former Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday, as Republican lawmakers indicated a greater willingness to ratify the agreement with Russia by the end of the year.
Both Obama and Powell warned of grave consequences if the Senate fails to ratify the New START pact, which would reduce how many strategic warheads the United States and Russia could hold and set up a system so each could inspect and verify the other's arsenal.
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"When you have uncertainty in the area of nuclear weapons, that's a much more dangerous world to live in," Obama said from the Oval Office after a meeting with Powell and Vice President Joe Biden.
Powell, a retired four-star Army general and former Joint Chiefs of
Staff chairman, said he fully supports the treaty, and believes Obama
has adequately addressed the concerns of Republicans lawmakers over
verification and modernization of the remaining US nuclear arsenal.
Failing to ratify the treaty, Powell said, could leave the US in a vulnerable position.
"We're not exactly sure what's going on in the Russian Federation, and
they're not exactly sure what's going on in the United States," said
Powell, who joined Obama in urging the Senate to ratify the treaty by
the end of the year.
White House officials were cautiously optimistic Wednesday that momentum
was building toward the treaty's ultimate ratification. Officials
specifically pointed to comments this week from Republican Sens. George
Voinovich and John McCain, who both indicated they'd like to finish work
on the treaty this year.
Leading Republican senators had argued that any action on START would
have to come after the Senate addresses an extension of Bush-era tax
rates and legislation to keep the government operating during the
Republicans have threatened to block any other legislative action that
reaches the floor of the Senate. But that threat, spelled out in a
letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, specifically did not apply
to the START treaty.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has bluntly warned
that his country would build up its nuclear forces if the U.S. doesn't ratify the treaty.
In an interview to be broadcast Wednesday on CNN, Putin said that START
isn't ratified, "we'll have to react somehow," including deploying new
nuclear technology. Putin said it would be "very dumb" for lawmakers to
block the treaty.