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RUSSIAN MPS MAY RATIFY NUCLEAR TREATY WITH U.S. TODAY

By NBF News
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IN what would be a victory for Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, Russian lawmakers have said they could approve a nuclear arms reduction pact that is crucial to the 'reset' in ties with the United States as early as today if a successful Senate vote left the terms of the treaty intact.

Swift Russian ratification of the New START treaty would shore up efforts to set long-strained relations on a positive track, increasing trust between Cold War foes bristling with nuclear weapons and sending the world a signal of unity.

Obama and Medvedev signed the treaty in April and have made improving ties between Moscow and Washington – increasing strained under their predecessors – major foreign policy goals.

The U.S. Senate voted 71-26 on Wednesday to approve the pact, which both presidents have called an essential foundation for further cuts in the world's biggest arsenals and a boon for efforts to curb nuclear proliferation worldwide. The pact must also be ratified by Russia's parliament to enter into force.

The Reuters news agency yesterday quoted Russian Lower house speaker Boris Gryzlov as saying that the house, or State Duma could potentially approve the treaty today if Russia were satisfied that the U.S. Senate's resolution on ratification did not change the pact – the product of a year of tough talks.

'There is information that the resolution has a series of conditions attached,' Gryzlov said in televised comments. 'If these conditions do not affect the text of the agreement, then we could ratify the treaty tomorrow.'

If the treaty failed, it would batter the reputations of both presidents and badly cloud the 'reset,' throwing increased Russian cooperation with Washington on issues such as Iran's nuclear programme and the Afghan war into doubt.

But analysts and arms control experts said Russian approval was all but certain.

'It will now be ratified for sure,' veteran Soviet diplomat and arms treaty negotiator Roland Timerbayev said.

The Kremlin-backed United Russia party dominates both houses of parliament, so approval is guaranteed as long as Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is seen as the country's paramount leader, support it.

'If the Kremlin wants do to it as quickly as possible then it can be done in one day,' Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, said.

The new START 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.

It will establish binding rules for monitoring and verification, crucial after the expiry of the START I treaty a year ago left the nations guessing about movements within other's arsenals.