WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen appeared on the Sunday morning public affairs shows to urge the Senate to stop obstructing the New START Treaty, a bilateral arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia, underscoring the importance of the issue for the Obama administration.
"I think this is -- more than anything else, it's a national security issue," said Mullen on ABC's "This Week." "I was involved extensively in the negotiations with my counterpart in Russia. We have for decades have had treaties with them to be able to verify aspects of the nuclear weapons capabilities that we both have. And from a national security perspective, this is absolutely critical."
The treaty has the overwhelming support of the military and national security professionals (from both Democratic and Republican administrations), including former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger and former Defense Secretaries William Cohen and James Schlesinger, among others.
The treaty passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with strong bipartisan support in a 14-4 vote. It now, however, is being held up by GOP senators. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the committee's ranking member, said his colleagues are deliberately delaying a vote because they don't want to have to take a definitive position on it.
"At the moment, the Republican caucus is tied up in a situation where people don't want to make choices," Lugar told reporters recently. "No one wants to be counted. No one wants to talk about it."
When "This Week" host Christiane Amanpour asked Mullen whether the Senate is playing politics with the treaty, he replied, "Well, you'd have to ask the Senate about that."
Pressed further, Mullen added, "Well, certainly, what I think is that there is a sense of urgency with respect to ratifying this treaty that needs to be both recognized. Historically this has been bipartisan. This is a national security issue of great significance. And the sooner we get it done, the better." He added that it should be done as soon as possible in the lame duck session.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also refused to sharply condemn the Republican members holding up the treaty, saying that all players were acting in "good faith" and Republican questions needed to be considered. She added, however, that the issue "goes beyond politics. This should be nonpartisan, not just bipartisan." Without this treaty, she stressed, the United States has "no verification" about what's going on with Russia's nuclear program.
Seventy-three percent of the American public support the New START Treaty. "After all the New START treaty isn't some left wing conspiratorial plot," concludes the Wonk Room's Max Bergmann. "It extends and updates a treaty negotiated by Ronald Reagan. It has the unanimous support of the military and of a who's who of senior Republican foreign policy officials."
"The world's nuclear wannabes, starting with Iran, should send a thank you note to Senator Jon Kyl," wrote The New York Times in a recent editorial, adding, "The treaty is so central to this country's national security, and the objections from Mr. Kyl -- and apparently the whole Republican leadership -- are so absurd that the only explanation is their limitless desire to deny President Obama any legislative success."
On "Fox News Sunday," Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol was trying to argue that the Senate should wait until next year to let the new members vote on the treaty. But contributor Juan Williams said that strategy simply seems like a delay tactic.
"I mean, everybody says this is a necessary deal, and it looks like Jon Kyl, at the last minute, is just saying, you know what? Let's get back to obstructing and taking away the key foreign policy achievement of this administration," argued Williams.
It's not surprising that the Obama administration is placing so much emphasis on the New START Treaty. It is, as The New York Times has noted, "probably the most concrete foreign policy achievement for Mr. Obama since he took office 14 months ago and the most significant result of his effort to 'reset' the troubled relationship with Russia." Indeed, the Nobel Committee said it gave President Obama the prestigious award primarily because of his work on nuclear disarmament.
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