Is START II Stalled Again?

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Rather than uncorking champagne bottles because of the Russian Duma's long-delayed ratification last week of the Start II treaty, Bill Clinton faces a debacle in the U.S. Senate over the accord. Reason: the Duma didn't only ratify the 1993 treaty, requiring each side to halve its strategic nuclear warheads, to 3,000 to 3,500, by the end of 2007; it also ratified a series of 1997 side agreements Washington negotiated with Moscow. They update the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty and limit any extra interceptor weapons the U.S. wants to deploy to shorter-range models that wouldn't threaten Russia. But those side agreements still have to be ratified by the Senate, and hard-line Republicans there vow to block them, claiming their passage would strengthen the ABM Treaty, which they want to kill, and make it harder to deploy a national missile defense.

Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin wants no part of a missile shield, and has told Washington that Moscow won't begin abiding by the Start II treaty until the Senate approves those side agreements. "The administration now finds itself caught between a Russian rock and the right wing," says Joseph Cirincione, director of the Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project. Clinton may face the embarrassing spectacle of having the Senate sink an arms-control treaty it has already ratified.