Russia's US nuclear pact approval to drag into 2011

24th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Friday voiced unease over US Senate additions to a historic nuclear treaty between the Cold War foes as lawmakers warned final ratification could drag into next year.

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

But a last-minute snag emerged as Moscow criticised 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.

Lavrov told the debate that Moscow was "absolutely not in agreement" with an addition made by the US Senate that rejects a link between missile defence and strategic arms.

"This is an arbitrary interpretation of the principles of international law. The agreement, like any other, is a single whole," he said.

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, modernising its nuclear arsenal, and seeking talks with Russia on curbing tactical nuclear weapons.

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

Although the Duma did approve the treaty after the first reading debate, the vote only signifies approval of 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."

But officials emphasised that the despite the hitch over the additions, the Duma would still vote to ratify the pact, albeit with the amendments that it would add next year.

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

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.

Medvedev earlier hailed Obama as a man who keeps his promises, telling him to enjoy a rest after pushing through the Senate's ratification of a historic nuclear pact.

"He is a man who fulfils his promises. I wish my colleague a good rest, he did a quality job," the Kremlin chief said in a live end-of-year television interview.

© 2010 AFP

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