Updated at 10:55 a.m. on November 17.
Despite the desire of Jon Kyl, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, to punt the New START treaty with Russia to the next Congress, the Obama administration still wants to push the arms-control pact through the Senate this year.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today that the administration is intensifying talks with Republicans on modernizing the country's nuclear weapons complex -- a key component to getting the 67 votes needed for Senate approval. Clinton adds that there "may well be a bipartisan consensus emerging."
The treaty is "not an issue that can afford to be postponed," she said.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said discussions on the issue continue in the Senate. He added that he does not believe there are substantive disagreements about the treaty itself, but rather about long-term funding plans for modernization.
"We stand ready to negotiate," he said.
Their statements come one day after Kyl, the Senate minority whip, dealt a major setback to the ratification process by declaring he did not think there was time for the chamber to consider the high-priority treaty this year.
The Arizona Republican, considered an expert within his party on nuclear issues, has been the lead GOP negotiator during talks with the White House, which had offered Kyl an additional $4.1 billion over the next five years for nuclear modernization efforts in exchange for his support for the treaty.
He indicated in his statement Tuesday that it was time, and not money, that soured him about pushing the treaty through the lame-duck session. But Kerry said today that he believes the sticking point is now funding for modernization efforts a decade from now.
The administration and Senate leaders have said they are committed to modernization, Kerry said, pointing to the $80 billion the White House had already planned to request over the next decade for the nuclear stockpile and infrastructure, and the additional $4.1 billion it planned to add at Kyl's behest.
Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who voted to move the treaty out of committee to the floor, stressed today that failure to pass the New START treaty this year would only delay inspections of Russia’s nuclear activities, which were put on hold late last year after the original START treaty expired.
“This is very serious,” said Lugar, one of four Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee who supported the treaty.
Clinton added that the administration is assuring the Russians that the White House and key senators are doing “everything we can during the lame-duck to get a vote to ratify this treaty.”
In what appears to be a measured response to the possible delays, Moscow said today that it expects the ratification process in the U.S. to end "positively” before the end of the year, according to the Russian state news agency.
The treaty is meant to be approved simultaneously by the U.S. Senate and both chambers of the Russian parliament. "We are committed to simultaneous ratification process,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said today, according to the Russian state news agency. “We expect that the United States would complete this process by the end of the year.”
Speaking about Kyl, Ryabkov said "we have taken note" of his comment, according to the Associated Press, adding that a failure to move forward “would not be the best outcome... [but] it's not our business to interfere in the procedure of agenda agreement and the Senate's work.”
Clinton met with Kerry, Lugar, and other lawmakers in the Capitol this morning to discuss a range of national security issues, including the New START treaty.
At least eight Republican votes are needed in the current Senate. Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., who often votes with Republicans on national security issues, said on Tuesday that passing the treaty this year would be all but impossible without the support of Kyl, who was once considered the leading Republican voice on the treaty.
“Honestly, it’s one of those cases where one senator, Jon Kyl, has so much influence with so many colleagues on a particular issue, that he pretty much determines whether there are enough votes,” said Lieberman, who discussed the issue with Kyl on Monday night.
Lieberman said he is encouraged that Kyl stated concerns about timing more than the treaty itself and noted that failure to move the bill in the lame duck will not prevent ratification next year.
“I hope leadership in Russia understands that,” Lieberman said.