Rep. Blunt urges defeat of arms treaty with Russia

Friday, June 18, 2010 | 2:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt said Friday that the Senate should reject a treaty between the U.S. and Russia to reduce the maximum number of nuclear warheads in the two countries.

Blunt, a Republican Senate candidate, said he had several intelligence briefings and meetings with defense experts about the treaty as part of his role on the House Intelligence Committee.

"I'm very concerned about it. I think the monitoring is weak in the treaty, the goals are not what they need to be and I would expect to be very involved in that debate process, if it's not ratified by the Senate this year," Blunt said.

"It is not a treaty that should be approved," Blunt added.

The treaty signed in April by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would reduce the maximum number of deployed nuclear warheads in each country to 1,550 — down about one-third from the current ceiling of 2,200. The reductions would take place over seven years. The treaty is a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expired in December.

Obama had predicted last spring that the treaty would get the two-thirds Senate majority needed for ratification. But during a hearing this week, Republican Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, expressed concern that the treaty limits future U.S. missile defense options.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other members of Obama's administration told the Senate panel the treaty would enhance U.S. security without infringing on the flexibility of its nuclear force.

Blunt voiced his concerns about the treaty when asked about it Friday following a speech to about 300 veterans and auxiliary supporters at the 90th annual Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Columbia.

After Blunt left, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan — the leading Democrat in the Senate race — also spoke at the veterans convention. In an interview afterward, Carnahan took no position on the treaty and said she was not familiar with McCain's concerns.

"Obviously, whatever we can do to reduce the number of nuclear arms seems like a pretty good idea, but we don't want to do it at the risk of the security of our country," Carnahan said. "I'm pretty open-minded about these things. I want to hear both sides of these arguments before I take a stand."

Blunt and Carnahan are campaigning to replace Republican Kit Bond, who is retiring after 24 years in the Senate. But they first must survive Missouri's Aug. 3 primary elections.

Although he was not invited to speak, Republican state Sen. Chuck Purgason also attended the convention, shaking hands with veterans as part of his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Purgason also said the U.S-Russia nuclear treaty should be rejected.

"I believe in peace through strength," Purgason said. "If you think we're getting into an agreement (in which) we can trust people, you're naive."

During the VFW convention, both Blunt and Carnahan were thanked for their legislative support of veterans issues. Blunt backed a 2003 measure that allows disabled veterans to collect both regular military retirement benefits and disability benefits. Carnahan supported a bill passed this year by Missouri legislators making it easier for people deployed overseas to vote.

In his speech, Blunt backed improvements to the veterans benefits system and accused the Obama administration of not always taking terrorists seriously enough. He said: "I think we're living in some culture of denial about the threats we really have."

Carnahan told veterans "real fears and real threats continue even today." She spent much of her speech criticizing Blunt for "standing up over and over again for big banks, big oil companies, big insurance companies and the lobbyists who take care of them."

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