Sat, Dec 25, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Russian approval of US nuclear pact to drag into 2011

AFP, MOSCOW

Russia’s parliament was yesterday to give initial approval to a historic nuclear weapons reduction pact with the US, but warned final ratification would drag on into next year.

Lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party — which dominates the State Duma lower house of parliament — said they would vote in a first reading for the treaty that is a centerpiece of a drive to improve US-Russia relations.

However, deputies expressed concern on non-binding amendments added by the US Senate to the text of the agreement signed by US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April and said three readings would be needed.

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.

However, prior to approving the treaty, US lawmakers attached non-binding amendments recommitting Washington to deploying a missile defense system, modernizing its nuclear arsenal and seeking talks with Russia on curbing tactical nuclear weapons.

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

Two minority State Duma factions — the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic party and the Communists — said they would vote against ratification. However, with United Russia holding 314 seats in the 450-seat chamber, their objections are of mere ceremonial importance, and unlike in the US the main doubt is when, rather than if, parliament will ratify the accord.

Kosachev said the Duma would approve the treaty in a vote later yesterday, but only in 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,” he said.

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