LISBON, Portugal – President Barack Obama said he got a clear message from NATO leaders Friday on the stalled nuclear treaty with Russia: It would strengthen alliances and increase European security.
Obama is in Lisbon for a NATO summit while back home his administration is working overtime to rescue the START weapons deal, which hit roadblocks this week when a key Republican senator withdrew his support for passing it this year.
The pact would reduce the limits on strategic warheads held by the United States and Russia and would establish an inspection system. It would be a major setback for Obama if he's unable to get it ratified by the Senate after inking it with Russia's president earlier this year.
Obama is seeking to rally support from world leaders for the pact as a way of pressuring balky senators back home. The president called the deal "a national security imperative for the United States" but said he's heard from leaders of European nations that it's crucial to their security as well.
"The message that I've received since I've arrived from my fellow leaders here at NATO could not be clearer: New START will strengthen our alliance and it will strengthen European security," Obama told reporters in Lisbon. "Nobody is more aware of the need for a strong secure and Democratic Europe than our Eastern and Central European allies."
The president cited comments from the foreign minister of Poland in support of the treaty and said, "We know that failure to ratify and move forward with New START will put at risk the substantial progress that has been made in advancing our nuclear security and our partnership with Russia on behalf of global security."
Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes said the White House anticipates other world leaders making statements during the NATO meetings in support of the ratification of START. Rhodes said Obama spoke with several foreign leaders here Friday regarding START, including a "good conversation" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
There will be a meeting between NATO leaders and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday.
Back in Washington the treaty's fate is uncertain during Congress' current lame-duck session after Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the lead GOP negotiator, said more time was needed before approving it this year.
The treaty needs 67 votes. In the current Senate, that means at least eight Republicans would have to join the Democratic bloc of 59 votes for ratification; if it's pushed until after the new Congress is sworn in in January, support from 14 Republicans would be required.