Dem Senators to Back Moscow Treaty

Democratic senators said Wednesday they would vote for a U.S.-Russian arms treaty despite misgivings that it does little to make Americans more secure.

They said the treaty will not reduce the nuclear threat because it calls for weapons only to be removed from service, not destroyed. They said it lacks verification procedures and makes it too easy for either side to withdraw.

The Bush administration and Senate Republicans have hailed the Moscow Treaty as an arms control milestone and a sign of the new, improved relations with Russia. The treaty calls for the United States and Russia to cut their strategic, or long-range, nuclear arsenals by two-thirds, to 1,700 to 2,200 deployed warheads, by 2012. It was signed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin last May during Bush's trip to Russia.

Ratification of the treaty has been a top priority for Russia before a Bush-Putin summit this May. It comes as the United States is pressing Russia not to use its U.N. Security Council veto to block a resolution authorizing a war against Iraq.

"To reject this treaty in my view would in my opinion harm our national interest," said Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said the treaty was "better than nothing."

Democratic support is essential for treaty ratification, which requires a two-thirds vote. Democrats have almost half the seats in the Senate.

The committee chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said the treaty "is not without blemishes." But he described it as "an important step to a safer world."

At just three pages, the treaty is a stark contrast to the thousands of painstakingly detailed pages that marked Cold-War era arms reduction treaties.

Lugar said the Americans and Russians could have spent years negotiating a more thorough agreement, but "both sides wanted to move quickly to capitalize on the opportunity to sharply reduce strategic weaponry."

"In my opinion, President Bush was right to conclude the treaty quickly in this form, rather than enter into a lengthy and uncertain negotiation process," he said.

But Lugar said the treaty is insufficient without a strengthening of the U.S.-funded program he co-founded in 1991 to help former Soviet republics dismantle their weapons.

Biden said without additional measures, the Moscow Treaty will not prevent nuclear weapons from falling in the hands of U.S. enemies because the arms will not be destroyed.

"You can stockpile them, you can put them in a warehouse," he said. "You can pile them up in a barn for ready reload. You can take them back down. You don't have to destroy them."

Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., said the treaty was a "tragic, tragic waste of opportunity" because of its limitations.

"The shame of the Moscow Treaty is not in what it does, but in what it does not do," he said.

The Russian state Duma is expected to ratify the treaty within weeks.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov said he and U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow had discussed trying to coordinate ratification.