Colin Powell to GOP: It’s time to ratify START

I believe this means every Republican secretary of state dating back to George Shultz now publicly supports START. (Condi too, apparently.) Is that enough to soften GOP opposition in the Senate, or will it take something more? An aide to Dick Lugar thinks it’s helping, claiming that it’s reframed the issue as a continuation of Reagan’s policy instead of a political victory for Obama.

In case it’s not helping, Russia has an idea for “something more.”

President Barack Obama on Tuesday gained significant Republican support for his top foreign-policy priority, a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia that in recent days had appeared all but dead for the year in the Senate…

Mr. Voinovich cited a Tuesday article in The Wall Street Journal that said Russia had moved smaller, tactical nuclear weapons to its western border as recently as this spring. Mr. Voinovich said he had talked with Eastern European officials, who told him that ratification of New START, which applies to strategic nuclear weapons, was a necessary first step toward addressing tactical nuclear weapons and other regional security concerns in subsequent negotiations.

Mr. McCain said he was “a little disturbed at the news this morning that tactical nuclear weapons have been moved closer to Europe by the Russians,” saying it showed “the need to have verification.” Mr. Obama has vowed to begin negotiations on a binding, verifiable treaty covering tactical nuclear weapons and other issues as soon as New START is ratified.

Here’s the bombshell Journal piece that got Voinovich’s and McCain’s attention. NATO began installing missile-defense batteries in eastern European countries in the spring and Russia responded by moving tactical nukes towards the border. START doesn’t deal with either of those subjects (it’s limited to strategic nukes), but until the issue of strategic nukes is nailed down, there’ll be no discussion of tactical nukes. Under those circumstances, I’m amazed that a hawk like Maverick would respond by softening on START instead of demanding that the warheads be withdrawn as a precondition to ratification. Maybe it’s the political cover he’s getting from Republican statesmen or maybe unverified tactical nukes in an age of terror — especially under a regime as corrupt as Russia’s — isn’t something he wants to play with right now.

Jon Kyl, the linchpin of GOP resistance to START, alsoappears to be softening, saying today that there’s no chance of taking up the treaty in the lame-duck session before a deal is reached on the Bush tax cuts. That’s a bit of a climbdown from what he said a few weeks ago about a deal in the lame-duck being unlikely under any circumstances. Sounds like that Journal story has lit a fire under him too. Crafty job of media spin by the White House to leak it as a way of putting pressure on recalcitrant Republicans. Two clips for you here, one of Powell’s meeting with The One and other of Putin sounding ominous about the consequences if START isn’t ratified. Although I’m not totally sure; as you’ll see, this is one of the worst translation jobs in modern media history.