US Senate approves Russia treaty
The US Senate has given its blessing to an arms control treaty with Russia that reins in nuclear weapons, giving President Barack Obama a major foreign policy win in the closing hours of the post-election congress.
Thirteen Republicans broke with their top two leaders and joined 56 Democrats and two independents in providing the necessary two-thirds vote to approve the treaty. The vote was 71-26.
The accord, which must still be approved by Russia, would restart on-site weapons inspections as successors to president Ronald Reagan have embraced his edict of "trust but verify".
Vice President Joe Biden presided over the Senate and announced the vote. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton observed the vote from the Senate floor. Both had lobbied vigorously for the treaty's approval.
"The question is whether we move the world a little out of the dark shadow of nuclear nightmare," Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said to his colleagues moments before the tally.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow welcomed the vote but still needed to study the accompanying Senate resolution.
Mr Kerry, a Democrat, said the vote was appropriate "in a season that celebrates and summons us to the ideal of peace on earth".
Calling the treaty a national security imperative, Mr Obama had pressed for its approval before a new, more Republican congress assumes power in January. In recent days, he had telephoned a handful of wavering Republicans, eventually locking in their votes.
The Obama administration has argued that the US must show credibility in its improved relations with its former Cold War foe, and the treaty was critical to any rapprochement. The White House is counting on Russia to help pressure Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) deal, signed by Mr Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in April, would limit each country's strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It would also establish a system for monitoring and verification.