Revived Obama celebrates year-end wins

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WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama has capped a crisis-strewn first two White House years by flexing restored power at home and abroad as he secured big wins in Congress on nuclear arms and gay rights.
Obama won Senate ratification on Wednesday of a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia that he said sent a “powerful signal” to the world, and fulfilled a Democratic vow by signing a bill allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
On both issues, the president took on and beat fierce obstruction by Republicans just six weeks after his foes raised serious questions about his political viability after giving him a “shellacking” in mid-term elections.
“One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck (Congress), I am persistent – if I believe in something strongly, I stay on it,” Obama said, in a warning to Republicans who will take over the House of Representatives and increase their Senate numbers in the new Congress next month.
Obama spoke after senators voted 71-26 to ratify a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), clearing the needed two-thirds majority for a pact the president had made a linchpin of efforts to “reset” relations with Moscow.
“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 at a pre-Christmas news conference.
“This treaty will enhance our leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace of a world without them,” he said hours after a group of Senate Republicans split with their leadership to back the deal. In Moscow, President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the US Senate’s vote “with satisfaction”, and Russia’s parliament indicated it could approve the pact as soon as this week.
Earlier, Obama signed a bill overturning the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military – in a sweeping reform of the military that activists compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“We are not a nation that says ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one’,” Obama said in a euphoric ceremony at the Interior Department. “We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot.”
However, opponents of the repeal passed by Congress over the weekend insisted the move would harm unit cohesion at a time when US forces are embroiled in Afghanistan and some still in Iraq, and would ultimately denigrate US security.
The president appeared relaxed and almost liberated as he arrived in Hawaii for his annual Christmas and New Year holiday. But he will return next year to a different Washington, with Republicans emboldened and his political prospects likely depending on a swift economic rebound, in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.