WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is warning that failure to ratify a new arms control treaty with Russia will undercut American leadership on scores of challenges it faces worldwide.
Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to plead with the Senate to approve the treaty, a dearly held foreign policy priority in the waning days of Congress' lame-duck session.
Obama said without action on the pact, known as New START, "we'll risk undermining American leadership not only on nuclear proliferation, but a host of other challenges around the world."
"Ratifying a treaty like START isn't about winning a victory for an administration or a political party," the president said. "It's about the safety and security of the United States of America."
Although the White House and Senate Democratic leaders have expressed confidence about prospects for ratification, the fate of the treaty is uncertain in the Senate, where it requires a two-thirds vote for passage. Senators are juggling it along with other contentious issues Obama wants to see completed before Congress recesses for the holidays, including a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, and time is fast running out. Senators debated the treaty into the night Friday, with Republicans raising concerns that it would limit US missile defense options, something the White House strongly disputes.
The treaty, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, would limit each country's strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200, and establish a system for monitoring and verification. U.S. weapons inspections ended a year ago with the expiration of the 1991 arms control treaty.