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From Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
  • State Dept. spokesman: "Strong possibility that this will come to a vote"
  • 5 former Republican foreign policy giants support ratification
  • Arizona junior senator Kyl thinks there's not enough time to vote
  • Arizona senior senator McCain disagrees

Washington (CNN) -- Facing the ticking time bomb of the Senate's lame-duck calendar, the New START arms control agreement now looks closer to being voted on before the end of the year.

"We're counting votes but we're not counting chickens," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. "We are encouraged that public comments by various senators on both sides of the aisle appear to leave open a strong possibility that this will come to a vote."

On the Senate floor, Democrat John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was trying to strike an optimistic tone, praising some Republicans for negotiating "in good faith."

"It's my hope that these conversations that we're having and the process that is in place is going to produce, hopefully, a positive outcome and we're certainly going to work in good faith to try to make that happen in the next days, hours," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said there was still a ways to go.

"Did I feel any movement on START? The the answer is yes. I feel that, but as far as being able to hear anything, that we have things worked out on it, the answer is no at this stage," Reid told reporters Wednesday.

Five big guns of Republican foreign policy, meanwhile, including former secretaries of state who support Senate ratification, urged their fellow Republicans, in a Washington Post editorial, to support the treaty which they say is "is clearly in our national interest."

Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence S. Eagleburger and Colin L. Powell said the agreement opens "a valuable window into Russia's nuclear arsenal," preserves the United States' ability to deploy effective missile defenses and provides enough money for modernization of the infrastructure essential to maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Modernization has been championed by the influential Arizona Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl.

The Obama administration's proposed budget contained a 10-year plan to spend $84 billion on the Energy Department's nuclear weapons complex. Under pressure from Kyl, the administration added another $14 billion for modernization.

In his latest comments, Kyl said he thinks there is not enough time to vote on START, given the jammed Senator schedule.

But his fellow Arizona senator and fellow Republican John McCain told ABC News earlier this week there is a chance it could be passed this year.

"I believe we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Sen. Kyl's concerns and mine about missile defense and others," McCain said.

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Meanwhile, the directors of the three Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories -- Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories -- said they agree there is "adequate funding" to sustain the "safety, security, reliability and effectiveness of America's nuclear deterrent." The comments were included in a letter to, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, one of the few Republicans who support the treaty.

The U.S. official who, for a year, did most of the day-to-day negotiating with Russia, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller, told CNN in an exclusive interview that the deal does not weaken the United States.

"We don't negotiate these treaties as a favor to the Russian Federation. They're good for us. They're good for the United States," Gottemoeller said.

Gottemoeller said all the questions on the treaty have been answered and it's time to vote.

"We have gone through and answered 900 questions for the record. And we've had 18 hearings and four briefings. So we've really understood that the Senate needed to do their due diligence. And they did a terrific job in terms of getting the tough questions to us. But now I think the time is coming to a close and, in terms of getting the answers to the questions they had, I think we've done that."

The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) limits Russia and the United States to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads each. The treaty needs 67 Senate votes for ratification.

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, Thursday commented on rushing New START through the lame-duck session:

"New START is a deeply flawed treaty that would have far reaching consequences for America's national security. Pushing this through the Senate during a lame-duck session with the hopes of using the Christmas holiday as a backstop is irresponsible. This treaty should not be jammed through because the president wants an accomplishment before the end of the year when nothing is lost by waiting until next month when the new Congress convenes."