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Senate panel expected to back START resolution

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve a resolution of ratification for the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on Thursday, according to congressional and administration sources.

The resolution is based on a draft by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and will have the support of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and other Democrats, the sources say.

The resolution is the means by which the Senate traditionally lays out its concerns and understandings about treaty language and sets out its interpretations without changing the actual text of the pact, which was signed in April by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Lugar's draft is expected to be approved at Thursday's markup session as a substitute for one circulated two weeks ago by Kerry. The committee will still have to deal with amendments, even after adopting the Lugar draft. More than 15 amendments, almost all from GOP members, have been sent to Kerry but committee sources said the hope is that some will be worked into the resolution, possibly garnering additional GOP support.

In a breakthrough Tuesday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) became the first Republican panel member to say he would support Lugar's resolution.

Corker, who has been the focus of pro-treaty lobbying, said: "If Senator Lugar's resolution is adopted in its entirety on Thursday and is not weakened through amendments, I will vote it out of committee."

"With Corker as well as Lugar aboard, we will be able to claim bipartisan support for the pact," said one congressional source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the ongoing negotiations.

Lugar's draft attempted to deal with frequently stated GOP concerns with the treaty. Among other issues, lawmakers were seeking long-term commitments to rebuilding the aging U.S. nuclear weapons complex and to maintaining the reliability of the nuclear stockpile as the number of weapons declines.

One Lugar solution is to require a president to report to Congress if now-projected future funding falls below needs. Lugar included reference to a possible withdrawal from the treaty if the lack of funds threatens U.S. security.

Lugar also dealt with GOP worries that the treaty inhibits U.S. missile defense programs. He makes clear it doesn't and that the Bilateral Consultative Commission, set up to handle issues raised by terms of the treaty, cannot deal with missile defense issues.

On the continuing question of Russia's overwhelming number of tactical nuclear weapons compared with those of the United States, Lugar said the United States and Russia should work together to determine the number of weapons on both sides and cooperate in securing them from possible theft.

The draft also protects the U.S. ability to develop Prompt Global Strike, a land-based or submarine-launched system designed to use intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with conventional rather than nuclear warheads.

Committee passage of the ratification resolution does not guarantee that the Senate itself with take up the treaty before the end of the year.

By Walter Pincus  | September 15, 2010; 2:05 PM ET
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