Senate Panel Appears Ready to Approve Nukes Treaty

WASHINGTON -- A Senate panel appears likely to recommend that the full Senate ratify a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control treaty.

It is not certain that Democrats have the votes or the time for a full Senate vote this year. But hopes for passage improved this week when a second Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee looked likely to support it. The committee was to vote Thursday.

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty in April. It would shrink the limit on strategic warheads to 1,550 for each country, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would implement changes in current procedures that allow both countries to inspect each other's arsenals and verify compliance.

The treaty has faced Republican opposition, but it got a boost from a member of the committee, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, when he endorsed an amendment offered by the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, that was aimed at building Republican support for the treaty.

Some Republicans say the pact does not establish adequate procedures for making sure Russia abides by its terms. They also fear that Moscow could use the treaty to limit U.S. missile defense plans.

Many Republicans also are tying their support to assurances from the Obama administration that Democrats push for more money to maintain and improve existing nuclear warheads.

Democrats earlier had delayed a committee vote on the treaty as they sought broader support from Republican members to build momentum toward final ratification by the full Senate. The delays have pushed the issue into the political season ahead of November's congressional elections.

The White House and its Democratic allies in Congress say there still is time to debate the treaty and hold a vote either before the elections or in a quick session afterward and before newly elected lawmakers take office in January.

The administration has pointed to the treaty as a signature success and a sign that its efforts to improve relations with Russia have borne fruit. Failure to ratify the treaty or a long delay would represent a significant foreign policy setback.