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START salvaged

With a last-minute flurry of Republican support, the Senate is on the verge of ratifying a new arms control agreement with Russia, giving President Obama a major foreign policy victory.

The initiative appeared dead just weeks ago after Sen. John Kyl, the GOP's lead negotiator, announced his opposition to considering the new START treaty during the lame-duck session of Congress.

But, undaunted, Obama and his top advisers embarked on a persistent campaign to secure the support of at least eight Republicans to attain the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the treaty. Six former Republican secretaries of state and former President George H.W. Bush endorsed the pact, as did the military establishment.

The treaty requires Washington and Moscow to reduce their nuclear stockpiles within seven years to 1,550 strategic warheads -- down from 2,200 each -- and 700 launchers. It also resumes onsite inspections, which lapsed last December when the original START treaty lapsed.

To woo Republicans, Obama reiterated his commitment to spend $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal so that what remains stays effective.

Kyl, who had called the treaty "relatively benign" last summer, concluded that it would damage national security.

Other opponents worried that it would permit Russia to block the U.S. from deploying a missile defense in Eastern Europe, a contention the Pentagon dismissed.

Announcing his support, Lamar Alexander, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said the treaty "leaves our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come [and] I'm convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the New START treaty than without it."

While U.S.-Russian relations no longer dominate, as they did during the Cold War, the new treaty is a significant step both for continuing rapprochement with Moscow and the push to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons worldwide.


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