SECRETARY CLINTON: Rose, why don’t you come up here and Rich, come on up here. They are two of the numerous people here in the State Department, the Defense Department, the Energy Department, the White House, you name it, across our government who have worked on this treaty and are now working on its ratification.
Next month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will bring the new START treaty one step closer to ratification. Last week, I was pleased to meet with Chairman John Kerry to discuss the committee’s schedule for consideration of the treaty on September 15th or 16th and in the full Senate soon after. The Chairman and Ranking Member Senator Lugar have constructed a good plan, and I am confident about the prospects for ratification.
In the weeks and months since the treaty was submitted to the Senate, it has earned bipartisan support from senators on both sides of the aisle as well as statesmen in and out of government from both parties. They understand that once the new START treaty is ratified and enters into force, it will advance our national security and provide stability and predictability between the world’s two leading nuclear powers.
We have worked closely with the Senate throughout this process. We welcomed senators to Geneva to observe the negotiations. The Senate has held 18 hearings, along with three classified briefings on the treaty. And in the wake of the hearings, we are providing answers to nearly 800 questions submitted for the record. There’s a lot of material for senators to review during this break, and we are working to resolve any outstanding questions they might have. We’ve already addressed several key issues, reassuring those who had had questions on such issues as missile defense or investment in our nuclear complex or verification.
This treaty will verifiably limit the strategic nuclear forces of Russia and the United States and will establish equal limits on both countries’ strategic warheads, delivery vehicles, and launchers.
This treaty will provide for inspections that the United States would not otherwise be able to hold. For 15 years, START provided us access to monitor and inspect Russia’s nuclear arsenal. START, as you know, expired last December. It, therefore, has been more than eight months since we have had inspectors on the ground in Russia. This is a critical point. Opposing ratification means opposing the inspections that provide us a vital window into Russia’s arsenal. This treaty in no way does or will constrain our ability to modernize our nuclear enterprise or develop and deploy the most effective missile defenses for the sake of our security and for our allies, friends, and partners.
With respect to our nation’s nuclear complex, Secretary of Energy Chu, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Tom D’Agostino, and the directors of our nation’s three national laboratories have all testified that nothing in the treaty will affect our ability to modernize our nuclear complex and maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.
In fact, President Obama’s budget request for the next fiscal year represents a 13 percent increase for weapons activities and infrastructure. Over the next decade we are asking for an $80 billion investment in our nuclear security complex. Linton Brooks, the head of President Bush’s national security complex, has applauded our budget and our commitment to nuclear modernization. Seven former commanders of the U.S. nuclear strategic planning effort have endorsed the new START treaty and recommended early approval by the U.S. Senate.
President Bush actually began this process more than two years ago with broad, bipartisan agreement that a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was imperative for the peace and security of our world. The Obama Administration has followed through with painstaking negotiations to finalize an agreement that lives up to this high standard and makes concrete steps to reduce the threat of strategic arms.
This treaty is another step in the process of bilateral nuclear reductions initiated by President Reagan and supported overwhelmingly by both Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses alike. In every instance, the Senate has ratified such treaties with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The Chairman’s decision to give members of both sides of the aisle additional time to review the underlying materials, but set a committee vote for the middle of September, is a gesture of good faith and underscores the tradition of bipartisan support.
But when the Senate returns, they must act, because our national security is at risk. There is an urgency to ratify this treaty because we currently lack verification measures with Russia which only hurts our national security interests. Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia’s nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty. As time passes, uncertainty will increase. With uncertainty comes unpredictability, which, when you’re dealing with nuclear weapons, is absolutely a problem that must be addressed. Ratifying the new START treaty will prevent that outcome.
So this month and next, I look forward to working with members of the Senate, especially Senators Kerry and Lugar, to move the treaty out of committee and on to consideration by the full Senate. We’d be happy to take your questions and I’ll have Rose and Rich respond to most of them.
QUESTION: Thank you. Bob Burns from AP. Madam Secretary, you mentioned there’s bipartisan support for the treaty. Senator Lugar, as far as I know, is the only Republican who has publicly said he supports the treaty. I may be wrong; if you could correct that if I’m wrong? And secondly, do you believe that the holdouts thus far are basing their position on election politics rather than the merits of the treaty?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Bob, I’ll let Rich respond to the first because we have indications of much more bipartisan support than that, but we’re very grateful for Senator Lugar’s public leadership. As you know, he’s an expert in this area and has really been the lodestar by which we all judge our effectiveness when it comes to dismantling nuclear weapons complexes in the former Soviet Union.
I believe that this treaty is too important and it will merit the most thoughtful and substantive response from members of the Senate. It should not be in any way caught up in election year politics. When I look back at the record of overwhelming support – 95 to nothing, 98 to 3 – I mean, just an enormous bipartisan commitment to continue arms reduction as a policy that is embraced by both sides of the aisle, I believe that the vast majority of senators will judge this treaty on the merits.
But Rich, do you want to respond?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VERMA: Sure. We’ve had excellent communications with, I’d say, all hundred members of the Senate thus far and really constructive discussions with staff, with senators on both sides of the aisle. The hearings have been very thorough, very thoughtful. The questions have not had a partisan edge to them. They’ve been very probing. And frankly, we’ve been very pleased with the process. It gives us hope for not only the committee vote, but for action on the floor in the fall.
QUESTION: But there are additional (inaudible) who told you they will support it? Is that what you said?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VERMA: Well, I think as we get closer, we would look forward to additional members coming out in – for support of the treaty.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Michele Kelemen with NPR. I’m wondering about the reset with Russia. I mean, has this delay at all affected the reset with Russia? And has it also affected your overall strategy on nuclear policy? I mean, are you worried about the nuclear test ban treaty now, other bigger parts of the agenda?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Actually, I think we’ve had a remarkable year not only in the reset of our relations with Russia, but in furthering the President’s policy towards nonproliferation and setting a very ambitious goal of moving toward a world without nuclear weapons, one that has been endorsed by leaders in our country on both sides of the aisle.
I think that the reset that we have pursued which has produced significant progress on major issues, most particularly the new START treaty, is moving forward. Our Strategic Dialogue, the binational commission that we created that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I chair, is working across our respective governments. And the Russians understand that we have a process we go through that they also now go through with their duma. We’ve stayed in close touch in sharing schedules and what we’ve been doing. And so I don’t see any affect whatsoever from our pursuit of ratification on the reset of our relations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all.
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