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updated 11/28/2010 12:54:53 PM ET 2010-11-28T17:54:53

A leading Republican lawmaker on Sunday rejected the Obama administration's assertion that ratification of a new arms control treaty with Russia is so pressing that it must be dealt with by the lame-duck Senate.

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona denied there was any partisanship behind his calls for a delay. He said the Senate has more urgent business to attend to in the weeks before it breaks for Christmas, including dealing with potential tax increases and funding the government through the rest of the budget year.

"It's more a view of reality rather than policy," he said. "These are higher priority items."

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Kyl said the treaty, known as New START, is extremely complex and can wait until the Senate reconvenes with newly elected members in January. He also said he has unresolved concerns about the pact, which the administration has said is an urgent national security priority and should be voted on as soon as possible.

"My issue is that you can't do everything" in the limited time the current Senate has, said Kyl, the No. 2 GOP leader in the Senate who has emerged as the Republicans' top arms control manager.

Kyl's position has stunned the administration, which thought it had addressed his concerns. Officials have suggested he is simply trying to sabotage one of President Barack Obama's foreign policy priorities.

"There's some game-playing going on with the START treaty, and it's all about politics and it's all about trying to damage the president of the United States," said Sen. Claire McCaskill.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that Kyl has a valid argument. He said the nonbinding preamble to the treaty has been interpreted by the Russians as limiting America's ability to deploy missile defense systems. And, he said he was concerned that the treaty allows Russia — along with the U.S. — to pull out of the agreement.

"If it's going to be interpreted by the Russians that way, I need to know before I vote," he said. "If the Russians say that they will withdraw from the treaty if we develop strategic missile defense systems, I need to know that."

Administration officials and Democrats have appealed for Kyl to drop his objections to considering START, maintaining that the United States would be less safe until the treaty were ratified. Without it, as of next week, the U.S. will have had no weapons inspectors in Russia to verify cuts in its nuclear arsenal since the last treaty expired in 2009.

"We live in a dangerous world," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "The failure of the United States Senate to ratify the START treaty immediately is going to cause a danger to the United States and its security."

"There is no excuse for us to ignore this responsibility and to say we'll wait several months," he said. "While we wait, there will be no inspectors on the ground in Russia to make sure that their nuclear weapons are safe and treaty compliant."

Rose Gottemoeller, the lead State Department negotiator for the treaty, said START is "first and foremost" a U.S. national security interest. "It begins with the fact that it is our best way to predict what's going on with Russian nuclear weapons."

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Obama sees the treaty as an opening for improved relations with Russia and has argued that it is essential for U.S. national security. It would reduce U.S. and Russian limits on strategic warheads and set up new procedures to allow both countries to inspect each other's arsenals to verify compliance.

Republicans have called those verifications procedures inadequate and contended that the treaty would limit U.S. missile defense options. Most Republican senators probably would vote against the treaty. Others have said they would follow Kyl's lead.

Kyl has argued that it does not make sense to reduce U.S. warheads until more is done to maintain and modernize the remaining arsenal. To answer Kyl's concerns, the administration last week delivered a proposal to significantly boost funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Kyl and Durbin spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press." Gottemoeller appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Kyl: START can wait until new Congress

  1. Closed captioning of: Kyl: START can wait until new Congress

    >> senator kyl , let's move on to the contentious issue of the s.t.a.r.t. treaty you're in the center of, the nuclear arms reduction treaty the administration negotiated with russia , that the president said is a priority for this lame duck session . you seem to be the key player here as the opponent in the senate. you've said over the past couple of weeks, there's no chance the s.t.a.r.t. treaty can be completed in the lame duck session . is that still your view?

    >> it is. it's more a view of reality rather than policy. if the leader of the senate, senator reid were to allow a couple of weeks for full debate and amendment of the resolution of ratification then theoretically there would be time. he's made it clear he has a different agenda in mind. clearly they have to set priorities here. are they going to deal with the funding of the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. they have got to do that. are they going to deal with the issue on everybody's mind and that is to be sure we don't have a large tax increase, the largest in the country. these are high priority items. if we deal with those things and then potentially other issues senator reid says he wants to deal with, there would not be time --

    >> here is the issue. can you get around senator kyl ? do you have the votes you need nine votes around republicans. can you get there?

    >> i can tell you, when it comes to this issue, we respect senator kyl . he's worked as hard as any senator to understand this issue, to be part of the important policy decisions we face, but here is the reality. we live in a dangerous world of the failure of the united states senate to ratify the s.t.a.r.t. treaty immediately is going to pose a danger to the united states and its security. let me give a historical analogy. it wasn't that long ago that a republican president appealed to congress on a bipartisan basis. it was president george w. bush , after 9/11, to rewrite the architecture of our intelligence agencies with a new department of homeland security . senator susan collins , the chairman of the committee at that time and a republican, senator joe lieberman , a democrat, got together and did it. they constructed this new scenario that has made us safer as a nation and they did it during a lame duck session . there is no excuse for us to ignore this responsibility and say we'll wait several months. while we wait, there will be no inspectors on the ground in russia to make sure their nuclear weapons are safe and treaty compliant.

    >> the issue is, senator kyl , what do you need all the time for. "the new york times" reported this on friday about your role. privately administration officials express anger and bewilderment and the mr. kyl they had given him everything he sought. arms control advocates more vocal. my conclusion he's acting in bad faith says daryl kimball , executive director of the arms control soaks. he asked for more earlier in the fall and they have delivered. is this anything more than trying to snub the president, senator?

    >> of course. harry reid can bring the s.t.a.r.t. treaty up any time he wants to. has he a different gena. he's made some promise toss political constituency. he wants to do the dream act to appeal to certain segments of the hispanic community. the don't ask, don't tell, to appeal to gay and lesbian , to appeal to unions, he wants the firefighters federal unionization bill. in addition to various political commitments he made to do legislation in the lame duck session , we have to fund the government for the remain 10 months --

    >> senator, you're not being responsive. what's your issue with the treaty ?

    >> david, my issue is you can't do everything. i was stating it as a matter of reality, not a matter of policy. how can harry reid do all the things we're talking about, deal with expiring tax provisions and in addition to that deal with the s.t.a.r.t. treaty which by itself could last two weeks.

    >> how long did the last s.t.a.r.t. treaty take, how much debate?

    >> we have three weeks until the christmas recess. in my opinion there's a lot of amendments that have to be raised on this treaty . they will offer the amendment, harry reid --

    >> my question is how long did the last last s.t.a.r.t. treaty take to get through congress?

    >> it's not comparable to this s.t.a.r.t. treaty . the last treaty was a three-page document. it was agreed to by everybody -- i think it was unanimous, maybe one dissenting vote. that's not the case with this s.t.a.r.t. treaty , there are a lot of issues.

    >> senator durbin.

    >> people across america who subscribe to cable ask for refunds when they turn on and see the senate doing nothing, going from filibuster to filibuster. let's be reasonable, constructive, bipartisan. we can get these things done. let's roll up our sleeves and do it. senator kyl has raised legitimate issues. the fact is we can do all of the things he mentioned, debate them and vote on them in a responsible way before we break for christmas. to do otherwise is really to create a dangerous situation. i agree with senator richard lug luger, it is time for us to step up as a nation and face the reality we'll be safer with the s.t.a.r.t. treaty . i might say to senator kyl , consider the situation in iran. they just announced yesterday they were going to fire up their nuclear reactor . if it's for peaceful domestic purposes all well and good. if it's part of an agenda to build a nuclear weapon , it's dangerous to the world. russia has helped us dealing with this threat in iran. to ignore and push aside the s.t.a.r.t. treaty at this moment does not help our relationship with russia in this critical issue of a nuclear program .

    >> senator kyl , i want to zero in on a point i don't feel i've gotten an answer to -- by the way the old s.t.a.r.t. treaty took a matter of days. you say it's comparable, but that's the reality it doesn't take three weeks. what's the substance you want from the white house to say, yes, i can support this.

    >> first of all, let me quote "the washington post ," no calamity will befall the united states if the senate does not act this year. the charge we need to do this for the urgency of needing verification, associated press did a fact check on that allegations and said the urgency is political. even the administration concedes the security risk is not immediate. there is not a time pressure to do this now as opposed to two points from now. specifically to your question, there are a series of issues that relate first of all to provisions of the treaty itself and how it deals with missile defense and conventional global strike and some other issues. secondly, you have the can he of modernization, which is the thing senator durbin pointed out that i have been primarily focused on. third, you have questions extraneous to the treaty but within the context, which is, is this all that's standing between us today and the administration trying to negotiate even deeper, further cuts, which it's indicated it wants to do in the march towards global zero, something a lot of us disagree w there are a lot of considerations. if you would like one or two very specific, one of the things the administration has done with regard to building our nuclear complex back up, replacing the old manhattan-era, 1940s buildings, for example, facilities, is to create two new buildings which are going to be necessary, one in tennessee, one in new mexico. these buildings are very costly. but what they have done is stretch out the cost so it doesn't show up in the ten-year projections now to be completed by the year 2023 and 2024 . that's too long. we need those facilities before then. as a result, there probably will be amendments or at least an effort to try to get the administration to fund those a little earlier. every year we delay is a cost of $200 million, money that could be saved if we can get those facilities constructed a little earlier.

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