Senate opens debate on START Treaty

WASHINGTON (RNN) - The debate over the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia began Monday morning, a day after a special session in which senators voted down a proposed amendment in favor of a quick ratification.

Following Sunday's special Senate session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, announced debate on the START nuclear treaty began Monday at 10 a.m. ET and move into a closed session at 2 p.m. ET.

After the hours of debate on Sunday, the Senate voted 60-32 to reject a measure to include additional language regarding tactical nuclear weapons to the treaty's preamble. The passing of this vote would have pushed it back to negotiations, stopping it dead.

The Senate is reported to be holding a possible cloture vote Tuesday, despite top Republican lawmakers actively voicing their opposition to the legislation, citing its need to be "fixed" and not having enough time to review the terms. The cloture vote allows the Senate to place a time limit on consideration of a bill.

The Senate first voted on the treaty 66-32 to bring the treaty to the floor for consideration, but when it comes to a final vote, the treaty will need one more "yea" to get the 67 votes required to pass. The last vote is expected to come, according to top Democrat leaders.

Supporters of the bill say its ratification would be a big step forward for world arms control, a goal they say has been sought by former presidents both Republican and Democrat. More importantly, it would be a significant step forward for the U.S./Russia relationship, which they say has been steadily improving.

However, the bill is not without its detractors. On Sunday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, voiced his opposition.

"I know the administration actually sent a letter up [Saturday] saying they were dedicated to missile defense," McConnell said in an interview on CNN's State of the Union. "But an equally important question is how do the Russians view missile defense and how do our European allies feel about missile defense? And I'm concerned about it."

McConnell then scolded the administration, once again, for rushing legislation of this magnitude at Christmas time. He said he wished there had been more time allocated to drafting the agreement, noting that members outside of the Foreign Relations Committee were not allowed enough time to review the treaty.

According to a White House release, the START treaty has been under review by the Senate for more than seven months and as gone through 18 hearings.

President Barack Obama has said that this piece of legislation is vital to moving America forward on a global level.

"Ratifying a treaty like START isn't about winning a victory for an administration or a political party. It's about the safety and security of the United States of America," Obama said in his weekly address. "That's why this treaty is supported by both Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. That's why it's supported by every living Republican Secretary of State, our NATO allies, and the leadership of the United States military."

Under the treaty, each side would be barred from deploying more than 1,550 strategic warheads or 700 launchers within seven years.

Only long-range nuclear systems are limited.

Those opposed say that this will put a cap on the country's ability to develop and defend. Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, disagreed on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour.

"Most significant fact of all, is that the general in charge of our missile defense agency, who is responsible for this program, says unequivocally in testimony before the Armed Services Committee, Foreign Relations Committee and publicly, there is no restraint - zero, none - no restraint whatsoever on our missile defense capacity."

More public debate is scheduled for Monday evening following the closed session.

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