Russia's lower house ratifies US nuclear pact

25th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's lower house of parliament on Tuesday ratified the first nuclear disarmament pact with the United States in two decades, a landmark treaty cementing a 'reset' in the two former foes' ties.

The State Duma voted 350-96 for the new START treaty in the third and final hearing before passing it on to the Federation Council upper house for a Wednesday debate.

The US Senate backed the first nuclear arms agreement since the Cold War era last month.

"We have discussed all the points of view," the Duma's foreign affairs committee chief Konstantin Kosachev was quoted as saying by Interfax shortly before the vote.

"We have taken everything into account and are now taking a balanced -- and most importantly responsible -- decision," Kosachev said in explaining the ruling party's vote in favour of the pact.

The chamber backed START after quickly rejecting a Communist Party proposal to bin a treaty that US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed in Prague on April 8, 2010.

"We have no trust in the United States," said populist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky before the vote. "It is dangerous to be signing agreements with them -- they hate us."

Russia's procedure-laden approach has seen the final START votes pushed back until Obama's annual State of the Union message -- a Tuesday speech he was expected to use to highlight his ability to engage Moscow.

The United States sees START -- which reduces old warhead ceilings by 30 percent and limits each side to 700 deployed long-range missiles and heavy bombers -- as a concession to Russia that opens up room for new talks.

It will allow Russia to take its ageing weapons out of commission while keeping parity with the United States for the decade that the treaty remains in effect.

Yet Washington has made clear that the pact will not limit its own ability to deploy a missile defence shield over Europe or develop fast-strike weapons that could reduce US dependence on nuclear arms.

The Obama administration further wants to force Moscow into a new round of disarmament negotiations that focus on short-range nuclear missiles in which Russia has a distinct advantage.

Yet Russia's parliament has packaged the treaty along with a series of strident declarations that directly contradict the United States' military goals.

The Duma adopted a non-binding statement flatly rejecting the United States' right to deploy a European defence system without Russia's involvement.

The Duma also said that any weapons developed under the Pentagon's Prompt Global Strike plan -- which primarily involve lasers and particle beams -- should also count against the limits set by START.

And it insisted that any short-range nuclear missile negotiations should also include talks on potential US plans to "militarize space" and press ahead with Washington's advantage in non-nuclear forces.

© 2011 AFP

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