Sen. Nelson skeptical Senate can ratify START treaty with Russia by year's end

A centrist Democrat is casting doubt on the Senate's ability to ratify a long-stalled nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia by year's end. 

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a supporter of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), believes that the Senate does not have enough time to take up the accord before the lame-duck session concludes since members of the upper chamber will want a full debate.

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"If it can be accomplished yet this session, that would be worthwhile," Nelson told the Lincoln Journal-Star during a Monday interview. "But I think there's not enough time to get that done."

Failure to act this year on the treaty would be a defeat for the White House, which predicted the Senate could ratify START by Christmas. President Obama has spoken publicly several times in the last few weeks to emphasize the importance of approving the treaty as soon as possible. 

Even though he said he backs ratification, Nelson said that Russian officials are "sophisticated and they understand Congress," so they would understand a delay.

The White House has also trotted out the endorsements of several high-profile Republican foreign policy figures, including former President George H.W. Bush, to persuade skeptical GOP senators to support ratification.

Senate leaders have had trouble cobbling together the 67 votes needed to ratify a treaty. Many Republicans, led by Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), have said that START does not provide enough support for U.S. nuclear modernization and have expressed worry that it could weaken U.S. missile defense.

But in recent weeks, several GOP senators have joined Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) in backing the treaty or expressing openness to backing ratification.

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