WASHINGTON (AP) — White House officials expressed confidence Friday a nuclear treaty with Russia will be approved by the Senate before the holidays. President Barack Obama is expected to stay in town to ensure it happens.
Momentum for ratification of the New START treaty grew as Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe announced their support.
"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 her statement.
The agreement would place limits on the number of nuclear warheads each country is allowed to possess, and provide for a new inspection and verification regimen.
Obama has been pushing hard for its ratification during Congress' lame-duck session, calling it his top foreign policy priority, and supporters appear to be getting closer to the 67-vote threshold required in the Senate. Apart from Collins and Snowe, at least six other Republican senators have indicated support for the treaty, although sometimes with qualifications. The 58 senators in the Democratic caucus are all expected to lend their backing.
Some Republicans remain skeptical, including those who say there isn't enough time left on the Senate calendar to give the treaty the attention it requires. But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday he was certain it would get done.
"I will say this: Congress won't leave before START is done, Gibbs told reporters at the White House. "START will get done. And START will get done with a strong, bipartisan vote."
Asked whether the president would stay in Washington as long as the Senate does, Gibbs replied: "I believe that's the case, yes." Obama is set to take his annual vacation in Hawaii with his family later this month, but the Senate could be in session past the end of next week.
Former President Bill Clinton also spoke up for the treaty Friday while making a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room to back Obama's tax cut deal.
"I think this START agreement is very important to the future of our national security," Clinton said. "It is not a radical agreement."
He said the treaty "ought to be way beyond party."
Obama signed the treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this year. The White House has been pushing hard for support from current and former officials of both parties, and this week secured the backing of former President George H.W. Bush, who signed the previous start treaty with Boris Yeltsin.
The treaty would cut the limits on strategic warheads to 1,550 each for the United States and Russia from the current ceiling of 2,200.
Associated Press Writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report.
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