Friday 15 December 2017

Obama assures Medvedev on START nuclear weapons treaty

US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. Photo: Getty Images
US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. Photo: Getty Images

Toby Harnden

Preident Barack Obama has promised Dmitri Medvedev, his Russian counterpart, that he will push the United States Senate to ratify the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) nuclear weapons treaty this month.

Republicans are sceptical of the treaty and will be more heavily represented in the new Congress that begins in January, so Mr Obama hopes to address it as a matter of priority.

Leaving Japan after a summit of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organisation, Mr Obama said: "I reiterated my commitment to getting the START treaty done during the lame-duck session."

He returns to Washington with few concrete achievements to show for his 10-day Asian trip, the longest period he has spent away from the US during his presidency. Back home, he will face the new political reality of divided government after Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.

The lame-duck session, which begins this week, is the post-election phase when the outgoing US Congress continues to meet even though some of its members are retiring or have been voted out by the electorate.

The new START treaty would reduce the limit on strategic warheads to 1,550 for each country from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would set up new procedures to allow the US and Russia to inspect each other's arsenals to verify compliance.

Failure to secure ratification would be a major blow to Mr Obama, who signed the treaty with Mr Medvedev last spring. Republican leaders want to see greater investment in weapons production facilities.

Mr Obama previously promised to increase investment by $10bn (€7.3bn) and as part of the effort to pass the treaty is offering to spend $4bn more.

In the lame-duck session, Mr Obama hopes to strike a deal with Republicans on extending President George W. Bush's tax cuts, due to expire after 10 years, and to repeal the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on homosexuals serving in the American armed forces.

White House officials view the START treaty as a litmus test for whether Republicans, emboldened after their sweeping gains in the midterm elections, will oppose Mr Obama's entire agenda.

One Obama adviser said there would be a "full-court press" on Capitol Hill to ratify the treaty. "The president has made it very clear publicly that this is his highest priority in terms of foreign policy."

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