PORTLAND – Press conferences to denounce or cajole someone or something are pretty common. Those offering a “thank you” after the fact are rare.

The local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility staged just such a rarity Thursday, holding a press conference to thank Maine’s U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans, for voting in favor of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, ratified by the Senate this week.

“Sen. Collins and Sen. Snowe on Dec. 10 were among the first Republican senators to announce their support of New START,” said Dr. Douglas Dransfield, a member of the group. “Their vote (Wednesday) to endorse the treaty was a demonstration of their willingness to vote for what they believe is right and important for the people of Maine and the United States.”

The treaty was passed by a 71-26 vote, exceeding the two-thirds majority required for ratification.

The treaty, signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, would limit each country’s strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would establish a system for monitoring and verification. U.S. weapons inspections ended last year with the expiration of a 1991 treaty.

The New START treaty still needs approval from Russia.

Collins announced that she would support the treaty after receiving assurances from the Obama administration that it would address her concerns over Russia’s thousands of smaller tactical nuclear weapons. Collins said those weapons are vulnerable to theft or use by terrorists.

In announcing her support for the treaty earlier this month, Snowe noted that she has supported efforts to improve Russia’s compliance with arms agreements, backed the development of missile defense systems and encouraged steps to modernize weapons since the initial START treaty was ratified in 1991.

The new treaty, she said, could improve relations with Russia and “enhance global security and, most importantly, our national security.”

Roger Q. Fenn, a spokesman for the Maine chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said several senators who were on the fence about the treaty decided to support it after Collins and Snowe did.

Many were Republicans, he said, suggesting that the support from Snowe and Collins might have convinced other GOP senators to back the treaty.

Several speakers on Thursday noted that negotiators now must turn their attention to countries other than the U.S. and Russia to further efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons — and the New START treaty might make that easier.

“By ratifying this treaty, the United States is taking a leading role among nations, which will allow us to urge others to take similar steps toward a safer world,” said Dr. Daniel Oppenheim, co-president of the Maine chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]