Obama gets his way on gay troops and nuclear treaty

Lawrence Conway
Thursday 23 December 2010 01:00

Barack Obama had double cause for cheer as he celebrated a burst of accomplishment which included the Senate ratification of a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia and congressional repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

As someone in the audience yelled "Thank you, Mr President!" Barack Obama yesterday put his signature to a new law to sweep aside all restrictions on gays and lesbians serving in the US military.

Looking up briefly from a desk at the auditorium of the Interior Department, he beamed and said: "I couldn't be prouder."

The signing represented a big victory for the President, who had made repealing the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy a central pledge of his 2008 campaign.

It was a historic moment for gay and lesbian rights in America - as many as 14,000 men and women were ejected from the military under that policy.

"I say to all Americans, gay or straight, who want nothing more than to defend this country in uniform, your country needs you, your country wants you, and we will be honoured to welcome you into the ranks of the finest military the world has ever known," Obama said.

The barracks doors will not be thrown open immediately; it could take months to prepare to implement the new law. But Mr Obama promised to avoid delay. "No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country that they love," he said.

A second boost for the president was delivered after the ratification of a much-delayed nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Obama said it was the most important such deal in almost 20 years.

The New Start treaty, which should pave the way for new cuts in American and Russian nuclear arsenals, was passed by a vote of 71 to 26 after months of wrangling in the Senate.

It will replace its lapsed predecessor, Start (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which was signed by Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev, in April 2010.

Under the deal, Russia and the US will cut deployed nuclear warheads by 30 per cent.

"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," Obama said.

Despite lengthy protests from a number of congressional Republicans, 13 Republican Senators voted with the Democrats during Wednesday's vote.

Top Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, John McCain and Jon Kyl, had opposed ratification of the treaty.

Mr Obama said the vote also showed that the US political process was not doomed to what he called "endless gridlock".

"The strong bi-partisan vote in the Senate sends a powerful signal to the world that Republicans and Democrats stand together on behalf of our security," he said from the White House.

The treaty must still pass Russia's parliament, a move expected next spring. But correspondents say the ratification will be seen as a foreign policy success for Mr Obama.

After the vote, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement: "A responsible partnership between the world's two largest nuclear powers that limits our nuclear arsenals while maintaining strategic stability is imperative to promoting global security."

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