Moscow: Russia`s State Duma lower house
of parliament today passed in a second and penultimate reading
the ratification bill for a landmark nuclear disarmament pact
with the United States.
A total of 349 deputies in the 450-strong Duma voted
in favour of the ratification bill for the new Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty (START), a Duma spokesman said.
The START treaty is at the heart of efforts by Moscow
and Washington to improve ties after years of bickering and
was signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his US
counterpart Barack Obama in Prague last year.
After much deliberation, the US lawmakers approved the
treaty last month and the Kremlin pledged that the Russian
parliament would follow suit.
Despite repeated criticism from two of the political
parties represented in the Duma -- the Communists and the
ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic party -- there is little
doubt the Russian parliament, dominated by the pro-Kremlin
United Russia party, will rubber-stamp the accord.
The Duma gave its initial backing to the new START on
December 24 and the third and final reading of the bill is
expected later this month.
The bill will then have to be approved by the upper
house of parliament, the Federation Council.
Earlier in the day Russia`s lawmakers approved
non-binding amendments to the bill countering those made by
the US Senate.
The Communists said today the amendments pushed
through by the United Russia were too vague.