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In further bid to mend US ties, Putin promises to ratify nuclear accord
April 5, 2003

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a fresh effort to mend strained ties with the United States, saying he wanted Russian lawmakers to ratify a major nuclear disarmament treaty signed with Washington last year.

"Our position and that of the United States on the Iraqi problem do not coincide. And this of course creates a difficult environment for further work on ratification of this accord.

"But Russia wants to see this document ratified. We will work with deputies of the chambers of parliament and I hope that we will move to ratification," Putin said in televised comments on a visit to the Russian Space Forces' headquarters.

Russian ratification of the so-called "Moscow treaty" had been scheduled for late last month, but the State Duma lower house of parliament called off the vote in protest at the US-led war in Iraq.

The United States has pressed Russia to ratify the disarmament accord in time for President Putin and his US counterpart George W. Bush to formally seal the pact in May.

In March, the US Senate ratified the treaty, which provides for a two-thirds reduction of both countries' long-range nuclear warheads from around 6,000 warheads each at present to under 2,200 by 2012.

Amid a wave of anti-American feeling in Russia, Russian lawmakers in the Duma have insisted they will only ratify the treaty when the war in Iraq is over.

But Putin moved on Thursday to calm the stormy waters in US-Russian ties, saying that he did not want a US failure in Iraq and pledging that the dispute over the Iraqi conflict would not affect cooperation.

Russia "is working and will work with the United States" to resolve global problems and crisis situations, Putin said then.

Russia has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the US-led war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and has urged a diplomatic solution to the crisis within the framework of the United Nations.

Putin also pledged to cooperate with other countries in halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear. Washington has justified its war in Iraq as necessary to strip Baghdad of deadly chemical and biological weapons.

Asked if the international community can halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction, he said yes: "if we strengthen the system of international law and the non-proliferation system."

"This will be more effective if we agree to work together in this sphere," Putin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Cash-strapped Russia had long battled for the disarmament treaty, which allows it to mothball its ageing nuclear weapons stockpile instead of spending millions to maintain or replace them.

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