December 11, 2010

Snowe, Collins support New START treaty

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said Friday they support the strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty negotiated between the United States and Russia, known as New START.

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Sen. Olympia Snowe

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Sen. Susan Collins

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The announcements came after a recent push by the White House to get the treaty ratified before the end of Congress’ lame-duck session.

Previously, the only other Senate Republicans to express support for the treaty, which needs 67 Senate votes to pass, was U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and U.S. Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

“I am confident that New START will provide predictability in our relationship with Russia and thus enhance global stability, and most importantly, our national security,” Snowe said in a statement Friday.

The treaty calls for both countries to reduce their nuclear stockpiles to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads, 700 deployed delivery vehicles and 800 deployed and nondeployed launchers.

It also allows each side to monitor compliance by establishing new inspection and verification procedures.

A similar treaty ratified by the Senate in 1992 has been expired for about one year.

Snowe, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she has scrutinized the pact and is satisfied that classified matters were properly vetted.

“Much has changed since the original START was first negotiated in 1991, and as a result I have supported efforts to make certain that questions regarding our ability to verify Russian compliance with the treaty’s limits — to develop and deploy effective missile defenses and to modernize our nuclear weapons complex — have been satisfactorily resolved,” she said.

But she conditioned support on majority Democrats allowing for “sufficient debate and amendments.”

Another top Republican, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, had said he did not think there was enough time left for Congress to properly debate the treaty.

Both Maine Republicans had resisted officially supporting the treaty during interviews with MaineToday Media last week until their remaining concerns had been addressed.

Collins, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also announced her support for the treaty via Twitter on Friday.

“I support the president’s commitment to reduce not only the number of strategic nuclear weapons through the New START treaty, but also to reduce, in the future, those weapons that are most vulnerable to theft and misuse – and those are tactical nuclear weapons,” she said in a statement released by her office.

Collins had written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last week airing concerns about the number of Russian tactical nuclear weapons, which she said are vulnerable to theft and misuse in nuclear terrorism. After receiving a response and speaking with Clinton by telephone on Thursday, Collins said she was satisfied with the agreement.

A large bipartisan group of former U.S. security officials have announced their support for the treaty.

Roger Fenn, spokesman for the Maine chapter of the group Physicians for Social Responsibility, said he was pleased to hear the announcements.

“It still is an urgent item on the Senate agenda since more than a year has passed since the original START expired and we lost the ability to verify Russian compliance under the old treaty,” he said.

“Their endorsement is proof that Sens. Collins and Snowe have heard Maine people who have urged for support for ratification.”

Recently, both Maine senators joined other Republicans in signing a letter pledging to oppose moving forward with anything legislatively until after dealing with the expiring Bush era tax cuts and continuing government funding.

But Snowe said in an interview last week that the letter did not apply to the treaty because it is on the executive calendar.

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