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"The New START treaty goes beyond nuclear security," Obama declared
Remarks by U.S. President Obama at a Meeting on the New START Treaty
10:36 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: I want to begin by thanking the incredible leaders who are around this table, not only the Vice President and the Secretary of State, but also some of the most able statesmen from both parties that weíve had in modern American history who are sitting around this table.
We are here to discuss the importance of ratifying the START treaty. And let me be clear: It is in the national security imperative -- it is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year.
There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high. The New START treaty responsibly reduces the number of nuclear weapons and launchers that the United States and Russia deploy, while fully maintaining Americaís nuclear deterrent.
If we ratify this treaty, weíre going to have a verification regime in place to track Russiaís strategic nuclear weapons, including U.S. inspectors on the ground. If we donít, then we donít have a verification regime -Ė no inspectors, no insights into Russiaís strategic arsenal, no framework for cooperation between the worldís two nuclear superpowers. As Ronald Reagan said, we have to trust, but we also have to verify. In order for us to verify, weíve got to have a treaty.
The New START treaty is also a cornerstone of our relations with Russia. And this goes beyond nuclear security. Russia has been fundamental to our efforts to put strong sanctions in place to put pressure on Iran to deal with its nuclear program. Itís been critical in supporting our troops in Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network. Itís been critical in working with us to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world, and to enhance European security.
We cannot afford to gamble on our ability to verify Russiaís strategic nuclear arms. And we canít jeopardize the progress that weíve made in securing vulnerable nuclear materials, or in maintaining a strong sanctions regime against Iran. These are all national interests of the highest order.
Let me also say -- and I think the group around the table will confirm -- that this New START treaty is completely in line with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on this issue. This is not a Democratic concept; this is not a Republican concept. This is a concept of American national security that has been promoted by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now my administration.
Weíve taken the time to do this right. To ensure that the treaty got a fair hearing, we submitted to the Senate last spring. Because of the leadership of John Kerry and Dick Lugar, there have been 18 hearings on this subject. There have been multiple briefings. It has been fully and carefully vetted, and has the full endorsement of our nationís military leadership. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hoss Cartwright is here and will confirm that this is in our national security interests.
My administration is also prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that our remaining stockpile and nuclear infrastructure is modernized -- which I know is a key concern of many around this table and also many on Capitol Hill. Weíve committed to invest USD 80 billion on the effort to modernize over the next decade. And based on our consultations with Senator Kyl, weíve agreed to request an additional USD 4.1 billion over the next five years.
So the key point here is this is not about politics -Ė itís about national security. This is not a matter that can be delayed. Every month that goes by without a treaty means that we are not able to verify whatís going on on the ground in Russia. And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and Americaís national security will be weakened.
Now, as Senator Reid said yesterday, there is time on the Senate calendar to get this treaty ratified this year. So Iíve asked Vice President Biden to focus on this issue day and night until it gets done. Itís important to our national security to let this treaty go up for a vote. Iím confident that itís the right thing to do. The people around this table think itís the right thing to do.
I would welcome the press to query the leadership here, people who have been national security advisors, secretaries of state, and key advisors -- defense secretaries for Democratic and Republican administrations, and they will confirm that this is the right thing to do.
So weíve got a lot on our plate during this lame duck session. I recognize that given the difficulties in the economy that there may be those, perhaps Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, who think this is not a top priority. I would not be emphasizing this and these folks would not have traveled all this way if we didnít feel that this was absolutely important to get done now.
And so Iím looking forward to strong cooperation between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, as exemplified by John Kerry and Dick Lugar, to get this done over the course of the next several weeks.
All right? Thank you very much.
Q Do you have the votes in the Senate?
THE PRESIDENT: Iím confident that we should be able to get the votes. Keep in mind that every President since Ronald Reagan has presented a arms treaty with Russia and been able to get ratification. And for the most part, these treaties have been debated on the merits; the majority of them have passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. Thereís no reason that we shouldnít be able to get that done this time as well.
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