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Published: Sunday, 11/21/2010

START rethinking

The decision this week by Republican senators to block action on a new arms-control agreement with Russia serves two dubious purposes: Stopping movement on the de-escalation of dangerous arms levels and throwing a wrench into relations with Russia.

Led by Sen. John Kyl of Arizona, Senate Republicans, in pursuit of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's agenda to keep Barack Obama a one-term president, have opposed bringing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to a vote before the Senate session expires. If they hold to that, they will throw on the fire a carefully designed accord that was the product of years of negotiation.

They will also insert another problem into already contentious U.S. relations with Russia. President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed that their legislatures would vote on the treaty by year's end. The Russian Duma, seeing the Republicans' action, will now probably suspend its consideration of ratification, not wanting to seem too eager for an agreement.

This situation wreaks of "all politics, all the time" rather than acting in the best interests of the United States. Both the New START treaty and good working relations with Russia fall firmly into the latter category.

Under the proposed treaty, both countries would retain up to 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers, more than enough to annihilate the other, consistent with the notion of "mutually assured destruction." At the same time, nuclear arsenals would be reduced and, perhaps most important, mutual inspection would be preserved, echoing President Ronald Reagan's call to trust but verify.

Good relations with Russia can have positive results for the United States in a number of areas, including negotiations to eliminate Iran's nuclear arms potential and efforts to achieve a Middle East peace.

By risking these potential gains in order to frustrate Mr. Obama, Republicans are acting in bad faith with not just Democrats, but the American people. They should carefully rethink their position on opposing New START.

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