President Barack Obama on Thursday sent the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to the Senate.

Obama spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, and both presidents "stressed the importance of completing the ratification process in both countries as soon as possible," according to a White House statement.

"The presidents discussed our common efforts to advance peace in the Middle East, with President Medvedev sharing his impressions from his recent trip to the region," the statement said. "The presidents also discussed the good progress being made by the P5+1 toward agreement on a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran and agreed to instruct their negotiators to intensify their efforts to reach conclusion as soon as possible."

Obama and Medvedev signed the historic arms-reduction deal in Prague, Czech Republic, in April.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), who will open hearings on the treaty next week, said in a statement Thursday that ratifying the so-called New START is "an essential step toward making America safer."
“This treaty will maintain our flexibility to protect our national security interests and restore hard-won visibility into the strategic nuclear forces of Russia’s still formidable arsenal," he said. "It will also strengthen the global coalition against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and thereby reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.
“The New START Treaty is the latest in a line of strategic arms reduction accords, often negotiated by Republican presidents, and supported overwhelmingly by Republican and Democratic senators alike."

Obama has said he wants the agreement ratified before the November elections, but that may be unlikely, in part because ratification requires 67 votes and some opposition exists. The Russian parliament must also approve it. 

A congressional staffer said that it was "much too early" to be counting votes, but that there's no reason the treaty shouldn't win the support of "80 or more" senators. 

Speaking about the timeline for the treaty's consideration, the staffer said: “It is the chairman’s intent that the Foreign Relations Committee will do its work, a rather thorough examination of the treaty and giving everybody a chance to have their questions answered, in time for the Senate to take up the treaty before the August recess, if it so chooses.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify before Kerry's panel Tuesday, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker is to appear Wednesday.

This post was updated at 4:58 p.m.