Despite support from the White House, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and key Republican senators, the Senate did not act on a resolution of ratification for the U.S.-Russian Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty before Congress recessed October 17. It remains to be seen whether the Senate will vote on a resolution when it reconvenes for the lame-duck session expected to begin November 12.
During an October 9 hearing, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) emphasized his intention to move the treaty through the Senate. “I know of no outright opposition to that treaty,” he said, adding that “it would be my intention to bring it up in the lame-duck session to get it finished.” Leading Republican Senators Jesse Helms (NC), John Warner (VA), and Richard Lugar (IN) sent a letter October 10 to Biden in support of the treaty and urged him to “finish the job before we recess the 107th Congress.”
It is unclear what is causing the delay, but wrangling over whether to add conditions to the treaty will certainly be an issue for the Senate. In addition to the joint October 10 letter, Warner wrote the Foreign Relations Committee October 21 urging that the treaty “proceed through Senate consideration unencumbered by reservations, understandings or declarations.”
But, in an October 7 report to Biden, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) cast doubt on whether the treaty should go forward without careful examination of its weak points. Calling the new strategic reductions agreement “an unusual treaty,” Levin suggested adding conditions, such as providing for Senate consultation prior to U.S. withdrawal from the treaty; encouraging the elimination of both delivery platforms and warheads; pursuing an information exchange agreement with Russia on warhead and fissile material stockpiles and associated security measures; and reporting annually on the progress made toward the treaty’s reduction goals.
Reaffirming the difficult path facing the treaty in the Senate, a U.S. official indicated that “the chances of ratification of the treaty are very slim for this year.”