Russia to discuss initial approval of historic US arms pact

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Russia's parliament was due Friday to discuss initial approval to a historic nuclear arms pact with the United States that opens the way for the former Cold War foes' cooperation on everything from Afghanistan to Iran.

The State Duma lower house of parliament was scheduled to hold the first of three required votes on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in its final session of the year Friday.

Duma deputies were expected to add their 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.

Deputies have not yet received the text ratified by the US Senate, and will have to first examine its amendments, deputy Konstantin Kosachev said Friday, Interfax reported.

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.

The disputed US amendments are already a part of the treaty and several lawmakers said they understood that the additions were primarily meant for US audiences.

A top ruling party member said Thursday that no emergency sessions would be held next week and that final passage was not expected until lawmakers returned from their New Year's vacations on January 11.

Parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov said the treaty could be ratified as early as Friday if the amendments do not affect the text of the treaty, Interfax reported Friday.

"If the text of the main treaty has changes, then we have to work through this issue," he said.

The new treaty 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 agreement 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.

The treaty also goes a long way toward 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.

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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