Russia hopeful on US nuclear treaty ratification

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Russia's parliament Thursday said it could adopt as soon as this week the nuclear arms reduction treaty that the US Senate has approved but cautioned it may need more time to study the accord.

US senators ratified Wednesday the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) after a months-long political battle, putting the ball firmly in the court of the Russian legislature to respond.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who signed the treaty in Prague in April with his US counterpart Barack Obama, welcomed the US lawmakers' retification "with satisfaction", his spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said in a statement.

In Russia, the treaty still requires approval from the State Duma lower house of parliament and Federation Council upper house. Top lawmakers had long emphasised they would only consider the issue after the US approval.

Timakova said Medvedev "expressed hope that the State Duma and Federation Council are ready to examine this question and ratify the document."

There is little doubt the Russian parliament -- dominated by pro-Kremlin deputies -- will ratify the accord and the main question is the speed at which the process will take place.

Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said that the parliament needed to examine the final document agreed by the US Senate -- which was amended from the initial draft -- and it was still awaiting a copy of the original text to examine.

But he added: "If the conditions (in the US Senate resolution) do not affect the basic text of the agreement then we could adopt the treaty tomorrow (Friday)."

Prior to approving the treaty, US lawmakers attached non-binding amendments to the resolution to recommit Washington to deploying a missile defence system, to modernising its nuclear arsenal, and to seeking new talks with Russia on curbing tactical nuclear weapons.

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Duma committee on foreign relations, said that there were three possible options for the parliament, including "approving the bill in the form it was presented by the president."

"Technically this could be done tomorrow (Friday)," he told the Interfax news agency.

But he cautioned it was also possible the Duma could decide to make additions to the original bill or even introduce amendments. The latter would require approval in three, rather than one, readings.

"What option is chosen depends on the document ratified by the US Senate which we are going to receive in the next hours," Kosachev said.

The new START nuclear arms control treaty is a centrepiece of US-Russia drive spearheaded by Medvedev and Obama to "reset" relations and the delay in ratification has risked turning into a diplomatic embarrassment.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had earlier described the ratification resolution as "a complex document that must be deeply studied".

Russia had warned against attempts by US lawmakers to amend the treaty, with Lavrov this week bluntly stating that the treaty "cannot be reopened" or become "the subject of new negotiations".

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.

© 2010 AFP

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