One of President Obama's top foreign-policy goals suffered a potentially ruinous setback when the Senate's second-ranking Republican said the U.S. nuclear treaty with Russia should not be considered until next year.
The statement Tuesday by Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) stunned the White House and Democrats, who scrambled to save the pact. It came just days after Obama declared that ratifying the treaty was his top foreign-policy priority for the lame-duck session of Congress.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) needs 67 votes to pass. Because of Democratic losses in the midterm elections, it would be harder to approve next year, requiring at least 14 Republican votes rather than nine now.
The "stunned" White House is pressing Kyl for a deal today, as Vice President Biden released a statement warning that a failure to ratify the treaty would "endanger national security." For a thorough explanation of why the deal actually represents a US national security poison pill, read John Bolton's May essay at NRO. President Obama, meanwhile, has pledged to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that adopting the treaty -- which the president has already signed -- is a "top priority" for his administration:
President Barack Obama, capping a far-flung Asian trip of mixed results, assured Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Sunday that getting the Senate to ratify the START nuclear weapons treaty is a "top priority" of his administration.
"I reiterated my commitment to getting the START treaty done during the lame-duck session," Obama said, noting that Congress returns next week for its postelection session.
Given Obama's liberal use of that particular phrase, his assurances may be cold comfort to Moscow.
UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters today that the president is willing to meet with Sen. Kyl to advance the START effort, and said he's still confident the treaty will pass during the lame duck session.