BARACK Obama has hailed a new treaty on nuclear arms control with Russia as the most significant in nearly two decades.
The US Senate voted to ratify the treaty yesterday.
The President said a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate had sent a powerful signal to the world, and would improve American relations with Moscow.
He called the treaty “my top national security priority for this session of congress”.
The Senate’s 71-26 vote on the New START treaty handed Mr Obama his biggest foreign policy victory since entering the White House, and was the climax of a triumphant end-of-year congress session for the US President.
Just a month after his Democratic Party suffered losses in mid-term elections, he has surprised even many supporters with a series of legislative victories.
When newly elected members of congress take their seats next month, Mr Obama’s Democratic Party will lose control of the House of Representatives, while its majority in the Senate will be trimmed to three votes.
In a late rush of lobbying, the President used the last session of congress before the changeover to lobby successfully for legislation not only on arms control but also on gay rights in the military, healthcare for emergency workers, food safety regulations, tax cuts and unemployment benefits.
Democrat Senate majority leader Harry Reid said success in pushing through the nuclear arms treaty had enhanced Mr Obama’s role as a world leader and confirmed he had deserved last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The Obama administration worked hard to secure the two-thirds majority in the Senate required to pass the treaty, which it regarded as vital for ties with Russia.
Mr Obama also views the treaty as important to retaining Moscow’s support for sanctions against Iran over its rogue nuclear program.
“This is the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades and it will make us safer and reduce our nuclear arsenals along with Russia,” Mr Obama said. “With this treaty, our inspectors will also be back on the ground at Russian nuclear bases.”
The nuclear treaty, which is certain to be passed in the Russian parliament, seeks to limit the number of deployed nuclear warheads on each side from 2200 to 1550 over seven years.
The agreement, while modest, lays the ground for further talks to secure a deal on tactical nuclear weapons that could prove much tougher, with pressure on Russia to make significant concessions.
Mr Obama yesterday succeeded in gaining the support of 13 Republican senators – despite strong objections from their party’s leader, Mitch McConnell, and deputy Jon Kyl, the top Republican nuclear negotiator in the Senate.
Earlier in the day, he signed into law legislation repealing a long-time ban on gay people serving openly in the military just days after it passed a final hurdle in the Senate with support from eight Republicans.
He also secured passage through both houses of congress legislation to give free medical care to emergency workers from the 9/11 rescue operations who have suffered health problems.