Nuke Negotiator Under George H.W. Bush Counters GOP Critics of Obama Treaty

WASHINGTON -- As President Obama signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia on Thursday, former President George H.W. Bush's lead negotiator for the original accord called Republican senators concerned about the deal "obstructionists" who are "outliers" in the goal of nuclear weapons reductions.

Richard Burt, a former U.S. diplomat and lead negotiator for START I, said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and other lawmakers who raised objections to the president about provisions they fear could impair U.S. security, are going to find it "difficult" to make convincing arguments against treaty.

"The treaty itself, as you know very well, does not take sweeping steps to reduce either the Russian or the U.S. deployed arsenal. If you view it as a snapshot it's a very small step towards further reductions," he said at a press conference featuring members of Global Zero, a group Burt chairs that supports the elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide.

"I think the importance of the treaty is broader in terms of putting the U.S.-Russian arms control process on track again and it's been off track for nearly a decade. ... Yeah, there will be outliers who won't vote for it but I am confident someone with the integrity and ability of Richard Lugar, minority leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will bring enough Republicans on board to have it ratified."

Obama signed the treaty with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on Thursday. It must be affirmed by the U.S. Senate. But Kyl, the Republican whip, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reissued a March 15 statement offering their objections to provisions in the treaty that they say creates a linkage between offensive weapons and missile defense in a "legally binding form." That linkage could inhibit America's ability to defend itself, they contend.

"We are concerned that the $1 to $1.2 billion increase that was initially in the budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration and the national weapons laboratories and facilities was cut in half," the lawmakers said in a statement.

Their statement was accompanied by a reissued letter first sent to the president on Dec. 15 calling for a halt to further reductions in the nuclear arsenal until a plan to modernize the nuclear program is complete.

"We don’t believe further reductions can be in the national security interest of the U.S. in the absence of a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent," wrote 41 senators.