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McCain Says “Very Close to Agreement” on START

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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, speaks on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Arizona Senator John McCain told the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Friday that the Senate was, "Very close to agreement" on the START treaty, and added that he hoped lawmakers would consider it next week before the end of the lame-duck session in Congress.

President Obama has called the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- a nuclear weapons pact with Russia -- critical to his foreign policy agenda. However the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed concern over U.S. attempts to "re-set" its relationship with Russia, and said that perhaps prospects have too often been exaggerated.

"Just look at the new START treaty. It's a modest accomplishment, but it has been so overhyped that you would think it is the administration's most important foreign policy success to date, and that its ultimate ratification would be so consequential as to tip the balance of power within the Kremlin to America's favor."

McCain suggested what was needed now was, "A greater sense of realism about Russia - about the recent history of our relationship, about the substantial limitations of Russian power, about the divergences in U.S. and Russian interests, and about the lack of shared values between our governments."

He pointed to disagreements over the U.S. deployment of missile defense systems in Europe, human rights violations and Russia's invasion of neighboring Georgia in 2008 as serious causes for concern.

"Cases like these make a mockery of the idea that Russia is governed by the rule of law, and unfortunately, they lead to one of two conclusions: Either (Russian) President Medvedev tolerates these injustices, or he is incapable of stopping them."

To that end, he suggested, "Dealing with Russia more as the modest power it is, not the great power it once was. What that means, in part, is being more aggressive in the defense of our interests and values." Despite his concerns, McCain argued that the greater realism he's asking for is not the same as pessimism, cynicism or demonization. He insisted he was optimistic, and reiterated his desire to address START before the current congressional session comes to a close. Although he added, "I don't think it's vital before we go out of session. We are crowded with taxes and spending...I think that START is very important, would like to see it ratified. But I would also point out to you that the last election, last November 2nd, wasn't about START. It wasn't even about Iraq or Afghanistan. It was about 9.8 percent unemployment, jobs and jobs and jobs and the economy. So the message of the election is, rightly or wrongly, but we are responsive to the people, that our citizenry, they want our attention on the economy. And so that's why we Republicans have said we are not opposed to bringing up START, but we want to address the spending and the taxes issue."

Meanwhile White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday, following news that Democrats had picked up two key Republican votes when Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins threw their support behind the pact, "We're going to get more than 67 votes. Congress won't leave until START gets done and START will get done."