Russian approval of US nuclear pact to drag into 2011

24th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia's parliament was Friday to give initial approval to a historic nuclear weapons reduction pact with the United States but warned final ratification would drag on into next year.

Lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party -- which dominates the State Duma lower house of parliament -- said they would vote in a first reading for the treaty which is a centrepiece of a drive to improve US-Russia relations.

But deputies expressed concern on non-binding amendments added by the US Senate to the text of the agreement signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in April and said three readings would be needed.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) restricts the former Cold War foes to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads each, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002, and 800 launchers and bombers.

The US Senate on Wednesday approved the treaty after a months-long political battle, putting the ball firmly in the court of the Russian legislature to respond.

But prior to approving the treaty, US lawmakers attached non-binding amendments recommitting Washington to deploying a missile defence system, modernizing its nuclear arsenal, and seeking talks with Russia on curbing tactical nuclear weapons.

"We have no right to leave these interpretations without a response," said Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee of the State Duma. "They contradict the entire sense of the treaty."

Duma officials said the session on the first reading of the treaty would take place at around 1030 GMT.

Two minority State Duma factions -- the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic party and the Communists -- said they would vote against ratification.

But with United Russia holding 314 seats in the 450-seat chamber, their objections are of mere ceremonial importance, and unlike in the United States the main doubt is when, rather than if, parliament will ratify the accord.

Kosachev said the Duma would approve the treaty in a vote later Friday but only in the original form signed by the presidents and two further readings would then be required.

"The second hearing will definitely not be held in this session but January at the earliest," said Kosachev. He said that the Duma would be recommending its own amendments in readings next year. "All of this takes time."

The speaker of the Federation Council upper house, which must also give its final approval, said that his chamber would also only examine the treaty once it was ratified by the State Duma.

"As the State Duma is only examining this question today in a first reading then it will correspondingly be delayed until January next year," Sergei Mironov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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