Russian parliament to ratify START treaty this year

AFP, Thursday 23 Dec 2010

Russian lawmakers to examine the text of US Senate's ratification before Russian parliament can make a decision

Russia's lower parliament house could ratify the new START nuclear arms reduction pact with the United States by the year's end, and possibly as early as Friday, leading Kremlin-allied lawmakers said on Thursday.

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the lower chamber could vote to ratify the treaty as early as Friday if the U.S. Senate's resolution on ratification "did not affect the text of the agreement," state-run news agency RIA reported.

The U.S. Senate voted 71-26 on Wednesday to approve the treaty, the linchpin of efforts to "reset" long-strained ties between Moscow and Washington and a boost for efforts to curb nuclear proliferation worldwide.

The treaty will cut long-range, strategic nuclear weapons deployed by Russia and the United States to no more than 1,550 on each side within seven years and establish monitoring rules to keep tabs on the world's largest nuclear arsenals.

In addition to the U.S. Senate, the pact must be ratified by both houses of the Russian parliament to enter into force. The Kremlin-backed United Russia party dominates both houses of parliament, so approval is certain as long as President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin support it.

Medvedev welcomed the U.S. Senate's approval and "expressed hope that the Duma and Federation Council will be ready to examine this issue and also ratify the document," his spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said.

But she also said lawmakers would need time to study the U.S. ratification documents before making a decision. Russian lawmakers have said they will examine the U.S. Senate's resolution on ratification closely, suggesting that any substantive change in the terms set by the treaty would mean delay or rejection.

"There is information that the resolution has a series of conditions attached," RIA quoted Gryzlov as saying. "If these conditions do not affect the text of the agreement, then we could ratify the treaty tomorrow."

Duma international affairs committee chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said it would be "technically possible" for the lower house to ratify the treaty on Friday if lawmakers decide no changes are needed in the Russian resolution on ratification.

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