Russia eyes initial approval of historic US arms pact

24th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia was due Friday to give initial approval to a historic nuclear arms pact with the United States that opens the way for the former Cold War foes' cooperation on everything from Afghanistan to Iran.

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that was passed after a months-long political battle by the US Senate on Wednesday has been the centerpiece of Washington's efforts to "reset" lagging relations with Moscow.

The agreement slashes the two sides' nuclear arsenals to 1,550 deployed warheads per side and leaves each country with no more than 800 launchers and bombers.

But besides also restoring vital inspections the treaty also goes a long way toward easing Russia's worries that it will soon begin losing nuclear parity with the United States -- a point of national pride since the Soviet era.

The State Duma lower house of parliament was scheduled to hold the first of three required votes on the treaty in its final session of the year Friday.

But a top ruling party member said that no emergency sessions would be held next week and that final passage was not expected until lawmakers returned from their New Year's vacations on January 11.

"Further work on the ratification bill will continue once the Duma resumes its work in January," news agencies quoted the Duma's foreign affairs committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev as saying.

Yet the timing glitch seemed of secondary importance as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev phoned US President Barack Obama in the wake of the Senate vote, according to a statement from Obama's office Thursday.

"President Medvedev congratulated President Obama on the Senate's approval of the new START Treaty, and the two leaders agreed that this was an historic event for both countries and for US-Russia relations," said the White House statement.

Pro-Kremlin deputies also took turns hailing the agreement as an important signal that relations between the two one-time rivals were finally getting back on track.

"There are times when our interests do not contradict each other. This is precisely one of those times," said the upper chamber's foreign affairs committee chairman Mikhail Margelov.

"We are standing side by side on this one without stepping on each other's toes."

Obama and Medvedev had signed the agreement in April as part of a renewed US commitment to win both Russia's trust and cooperation in the handling of pressing international disputes.

The treaty works in Moscow's favour because it slashes the United States' nuclear arsenal to a size that Russia can keep up with despite its financial difficulties and its need to take old nuclear warheads out of commission.

But it also suits the United States because it removes a major roadblock in the two sides' relations and paves the way for Russia joining international efforts to halt the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.

Russia's assistance is also important in transporting support equipment for the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan and deputies said that all types of cooperation were possible now that the Senate had passed the pact.

"Ratification will have a positive effect on all areas of our bilateral cooperation -- especially Afghanistan and Iran," ruling United Russia party deputy Ruslan Kondratov said in comments posted on the party's website.

Yet some lawmakers are uneasy about the non-binding amendments that US senators attached to the so-called "resolution of ratification" that was aimed at soothe sceptical Republicans' worries about the pact.

Duma deputies were expected to add their own non-binding resolutions to the text that did not change the essence of the treaty but underscored Russia's displeasure with US plans to deploy a new missile defence system in Europe.

The disputed US amendments are already a part of the treaty and several lawmakers said they understood that the additions were primarily meant for US audiences.

"This is all a part of a grand chess game ... that Obama is playing home," Margelov said.

© 2010 AFP

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