WASHINGTON - Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl on Sunday rejected the Obama administration's assertion that ratification of a new arms-control treaty with Russia is so pressing that it must be dealt with by the lame-duck Senate.
Kyl denied there was any partisanship behind his calls for a delay. He said the Senate has more urgent business to attend to in the weeks before it breaks for Christmas, including dealing with potential tax increases and funding the government through the rest of the budget year.
"It's more a view of reality rather than policy," he said. "These are higher priority items."
Kyl said the treaty, known as New START, is extremely complex and can wait until the Senate reconvenes with newly elected members in January. He also said he has unresolved concerns about the pact, which the administration has said is an urgent national security priority and should be voted on as soon as possible.
"My issue is that you can't do everything" in the limited time the current Senate has, said Kyl, the No. 2 GOP leader in the Senate, who has emerged as the Republicans' top arms-control manager.
Kyl's position has stunned the administration, which thought it had addressed his concerns. Officials have suggested he is simply trying to sabotage one of President Obama's foreign-policy priorities.
"There's some game-playing going on with the START treaty, and it's all about politics, and it's all about trying to damage the president of the United States," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that Kyl has a valid argument. He said the nonbinding preamble to the treaty has been interpreted by the Russians as limiting America's ability to deploy missile defense systems. And he said he was concerned that the treaty allows Russia - along with the U.S. - to pull out of the agreement.
"If it's going to be interpreted by the Russians that way, I need to know before I vote," he said. "If the Russians say that they will withdraw from the treaty if we develop strategic missile defense systems, I need to know that. If they say that it doesn't mean that, then I think we're a lot closer to the treaty being enacted."
Administration officials and Democrats have appealed for Kyl to drop his objections to considering START, maintaining that the United States would be less safe until the treaty was ratified. Without it, as of next week the U.S. will have had no weapons inspectors in Russia to verify cuts in its nuclear arsenal since the last treaty expired in 2009.