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13 May, 2010 17:49

Obama submits START treaty to Congress

US President Barack Obama has submitted to Congress the new Russia-US START treaty aimed at cutting nuclear arsenals for ratification. The signing of the document has been dubbed “the final end to the Cold War.”

On Thursday morning president Obama informed Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev over the phone that he had sent the document to the Senate.

In a message to the upper house of Congress, Obama urged the senators to ratify the document, saying it “will enhance the national security of the United States.”

“It mandates mutual reductions and limitations on the world's two largest nuclear arsenals. The Treaty will promote transparency and predictability in the strategic relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation and will enable each Party to verify that the other Party is complying with its obligations through a regime that includes on-site inspections, notifications, a comprehensive and continuing exchange of data regarding strategic offensive arms, and provisions for the use of national technical means of verification,” his letter, published by the White House, reads.

On the same day, the Kremlin vowed to submit the document to Russia’s State Duma shortly.

“The Russian president will submit START for ratification in the next few days,” Presidential Press Secretary Natalya Timakova said as quoted by Interfax news agency.

The ratification in the US Senate will require two-thirds of the votes. According to the White House official website, next week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will open formal hearings on the treaty, with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen scheduled to testify.

“Over the coming weeks, the Committee is likely to hold several hearings with other Administration witnesses, as well as with former officials from both Democratic and Republican Administrations. Two other Senate committees – Armed Services and Intelligence – will also hold hearings on the Treaty,” the White House blog post reads.

Presidents Medvedev and Obama signed the new START agreement on April 8 in Prague. Over a period of seven years, the sides intend to cut the total amount of nuclear warheads by a third compared to the 2002 treaty and reduce by almost half the number of delivery vehicles.

The signing of the document is seen by both Moscow and Washington as a crucial step to a nuclear-free world. According to the joint statement issued on Thursday by the US and Russian delegations, “The Treaty ushers in the transition to a higher level of cooperation between Russia and the US with respect to disarmament and non-proliferation.”

“It lays the foundation for qualitatively new bilateral relations in the strategic military field and, in effect, marks the final end of the ‘Cold War’ period. We expect that the signing and entry into force of the new START Treaty will pave the way for an increasingly productive and mutually beneficial partnership between Russia and the US concerning the most relevant issues on the global agenda,” it reads.

However, John Isaacs, from the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, says that the treaty could cause serious debate in Congress.

“There are several problems facing the treaty in the United States. The most particular one is that there has been a very bitter competition between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in the US Senate. With the US elections coming up in November this year, a lot of Republicans are determined to prevent any more victories for President Obama,” said Isaacs.

Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Aleksey Arbatov agrees that the ratification process will not be easy. However, the document will be signed.

“If nothing untoward happens in international politics – for instance, an aggravation in the Iranian crisis, the US Senate could quietly ratify the new treaty by Christmas, and it could do so with an overwhelming majority of votes,” he said in an interview with Interfax.

Meanwhile, both presidents are determined not to allow the situation in Iran to worsen and are set to finally find common ground on the Iranian nuclear program issue. While speaking over the phone on Thursday, the two agreed to “intensify efforts aimed at finalizing the work to negotiate a common position within the sextet on Iran.”

Medvedev and Obama have agreed to speed up the joint work aimed at helping to bring stability to the Middle East. That, according to the Kremlin, will include “studying nonstandard methods of approach to the situation in the region.”