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Clinton woos Republican in pitch for nuclear treaty

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a pitch on Friday for the Senate to ratify a new treaty to slash the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals with a personal visit to the Senate Republican leader's home state.

With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the audience, Clinton told students in Kentucky the arms control pact signed in Prague on Thursday by the U.S. and Russian presidents deserved Democratic and Republican support.

While President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats have a majority in the Senate, he needs some Republican votes to win Senate consent to the agreement, which commits both nations to cut their deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent.

Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties must secure two-thirds approval to secure Senate ratification.

A successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the accord is part of a broader U.S. push, including a next week's Washington summit on preventing nuclear terrorism, to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons and proliferation.

Analysts believe the odds favor ratification but it may be an uphill climb given the bitterness left by the bare-knuckled fight over health care and Republican questions about how the treaty might affect U.S. missile defense and whether Obama will modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal even as he shrinks it.

Obama, however, has said he is confident the Senate will approve the agreement -- a view Clinton echoed.

"By ratifying this treaty, the United States won't give up anything of strategic importance," Clinton said in a speech at the McConnell Center for Public Policy at the Kentucky's University of Louisville, McConnell's alma mater.

She added that protecting the United States from nuclear attack has historically been an issue "where our two political parties have always found common cause, with good reason."

Clinton's Kentucky visit seemed designed to curry favor with McConnell and to improve the odds of ratification.

McConnell, who has not said whether he will back the treaty, has said he will judge it on whether it is verifiable, whether it would reduce the U.S. ability to protect itself and its allies, and whether Obama would preserve the "triad" of delivering nuclear weapons from land, air or sea.

"I am confident that once senators have the chance to study this new treaty we will have the same levels high of bipartisan support," she said. "Underlying it all is that we are trying to maneuver through a period when our enemies are not just other states ... they are these terrorist networks."

Obama hopes to address the latter issue with a Nuclear Security Summit next week that will gather 47 nations -- the largest such gathering hosted by the United States since 1945 -- to discuss how to prevent nuclear terrorism.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)