Russia sets first vote on US arms pact for Friday

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President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday hailed the United States' passage of a historic nuclear arms reduction treaty that a top Russian lawmakers said would be given an initial vote this week.

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 treaty 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 towards 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 Kremlin said Medvedev received news of the 71-26 vote in the Senate "with satisfaction" and "expressed hope that the State Duma and Federation Council are ready to examine this question and ratify the document."

The lower and upper chambers of Russia's parliament are dominated by pro-Kremlin lawmakers that act in line with the president's wishes and their eventual ratification of the document is all but assured.

The first of the three required votes on the measure has been scheduled for Friday's final Duma session of the year.

But a top top ruling party member said that no emergency session would be held next week and that final passage was not likely to happen 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.

The timing glitch seemed of secondary importance as pro-Kremlin lawmakers took turns calling the agreement as a vital document that not only suits both countries but also opens the way for further cooperation on global issues.

"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."

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.

"We have a pretty good idea about what kinds of amendments may need to be attached (to the treaty to ensure) Russia's ratification of START," Kosachev said.

The disputed US amendments are already a part of the treaty signed by the two presidents in Prague in April and several lawmakers said they understood that the additions were meant primarily for US domestic consumption.

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

"We can also express any opinions about the document we want. But this does not change the essence of the document -- a document that was sealed by two signatures: that of our president and Obama."

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

But United Russia holds 314 seats in the 450 seat chamber and does not need anyone else's backing to collect the two-thirds of the votes necessary for ratification.

© 2010 AFP

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