New START gets tentative nod from Russian Parliament

Barack Obama, Dmitry Medvedev agreed that START nuclear pact was "historic".

Updated: Dec 24, 2010, 20:44 PM IST

Moscow: Russia`s lower house of parliament on Friday gave preliminary approval to a US-Russian arms treaty, but decided to delay further moves until next month.

The Kremlin-controlled State Duma voted 350-58 to approve the New START treaty in the first of three required readings. The legislators said they would proceed further after returning from the New Year`s vacation that lasts until Jan. 11.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the State Duma`s foreign affairs committee, said the full ratification could only happen next month "at the earliest."

The New START treaty, which was ratified Wednesday by the US Senate, would limit each country`s strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would re-establish a system for monitoring and verification, which ended last year with the expiration of a previous arms control deal.

The pact is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama`s efforts to "reset" ties with Russia. In a phone conversation on Thursday, Russia`s President Dmitry Medvedev congratulated Obama`s on the Senate`s approval of the treaty, which the two leaders hailed as a historic event for both countries and for US-Russia relations, according to a statement from the White House.

Speaking in a live interview with top Russian TV stations on Friday, Medvedev praised the treaty as a "cornerstone of stability both on the European continent and the entire world for the next decades," adding he was happy to see the Russian parliament moving ahead to ratify it. He credited Obama for securing the pact`s ratification.

Republicans had tried to kill the treaty by forcing changes in its language that would have sent it back for negotiations with Moscow. Democrats sought to appease some Republican senators by letting them raise these issues in legislation accompanying the treaty that would not directly affect the pact.

On Wednesday, two such amendments, one on missile defense and one on funding for the US nuclear arsenal, passed with support from both parties.

Russia`s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Russian lawmakers Friday that the Senate legislation accompanying the treaty doesn`t change it.

Kosachev and other lawmakers said that the Duma will likely counter the Senate legislation with legislation of its own.

"We don`t have the right to leave their interpretations unanswered," Kosachev told reporters on Friday. "Otherwise it may give additional advantages to our American partners — or, possibly, opponents. We need to balance those advantages."

The treaty also needs to be ratified by the upper house, the Federation Council, which like the Duma is controlled by the Kremlin.

Bureau Report