U.S. President Barack Obama - Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 at the Department of the Interior in Washington, Dec. 22, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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The United States Senate approved a landmark nuclear arms control treaty with Russia on Wednesday, handing President Barack Obama a major foreign policy victory in his drive to improve ties with Moscow and curb the spread of atomic weapons to other nations.

The Senate voted 71-26 in favor of the treaty after a contentious debate with Republican leaders that threatened traditional bipartisanship on national security affairs.

The vote was an endorsement of Obama's effort to improve relations with Russia and gave a lift to his drive to resume arms control in an attempt to curb the pursuit of nuclear
weapons by countries like North Korea and Iran.

"With this treaty, we send a message to Iran and North Korea that the international community remains united to restrain the nuclear ambitions of countries that operate
outside the law," said Senator John Kerry, who led the debate on the accord.

The treaty will reduce long-range, strategic atomic weapons deployed by each country to no more than 1,550 within seven years. Deployed missile launchers would be cut to no more than 700.

Passage of the treaty on a bipartisan vote that included 13 Republicans was a big victory for Obama just weeks after he was crippled in November congressional elections. His Democratic Party lost control of the House of Representatives and retained
the Senate with a narrow majority.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who signed the treaty with Obama in April, expressed optimism about passage ahead of the Senate vote.

"I believe that it will be ratified," Medvedev told reporters during a visit to Mumbai, India, wishing Obama success in winning approval for the pact.

Passage angered some Republicans. Senator Jim DeMint, a treaty opponent, charged that a "fired, unaccountable Congress" had pushed through the treaty under the pressure of a Christmas holiday deadline after "back-room trading" produced billions of
dollars in nuclear modernization funding.

"The treaty had no chance of ratification until the president agreed to billions of dollars of modernization of our nuclear weapons," he said.

Senator Jeff Sessions said Obama's goal of a nuclear-free world was "cockamamie" and called for a rejection of the treaty.

"I think the whole world would see the Senate action (rejection of the treaty) as a resurgence of America's historical policy of peace through strength and a rejection of
a leftist vision of a world without nuclear weapons," Sessions said.