Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said Wednesday that he still believes the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia can be ratified during the lame duck session of Congress, despite calls from several Republican senators for more time to consider the agreement.
"I'm very hopeful. My expectation is that we're going to try to move to the START treaty and get the START treaty done, because it's a matter of national security," Kerry said on a conference call. "I would think [December] is likely, just given the overall schedule and the Thanksgiving break."
Kerry was calling from Israel, the last leg of his overseas trip that included stops in Sudan, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. He said he spoke Wednesday to the committee's ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), Vice President Joseph Biden, and that he put in a call to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key GOP leader on New START.
In remarks last week, Lugar wondered aloud whether there would be enough time to complete work on the treaty during the lame duck session and stated that some GOP senators would be opposed to taking up the treaty this year. Last week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treay in the committee, told The Cable he would prefer if the debate and vote were delayed until the next session of Congress.
But Kerry said Lugar's only concern was about whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would set aside enough floor time to properly vet the treaty. "[Lugar] is committed to doing it provided that Harry Reid is committed to putting it on the floor and giving it the time," Kerry said. Kerry and President Obama both have spoken to Reid about this. "[Reid] wants to get this done," Kerry said.
Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told The Hill, "Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year."
Manley is referring to the package of incentives Biden is putting together for Kyl in addition to the $80 billion the administration already pledged for nuclear modernization and nuclear stockpile maintenance. Biden has been working the phones with GOP senators and spoke with Kyl very recently, Kerry said.
Meanwhile, GOP fence-sitters John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this week at the Halifax National Security Forum that they want to see the New START treaty issue resolved, but they just don't know if it will happen.
"I'd like for us to resolve the START treaty issue, whether we will or not is just not clear to me," McCain said, without indicating whether he wanted to resolve it by passing it or voting it down.
Graham seemed to indicate he was for the treaty.
"I certainly am leaning towards, I definitely want a treaty because if you can reduce the number of launch vehicles and the number of warheads and still have a nuclear deterrent, that's a good move because it reduces your cost," he said. "So the trade I'm looking for is with the administration, that we'll negotiate a treaty with good numbers as long as you modernize the force that's left... I don't know if there's momentum for that in the lame duck or not."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.