Russia's Lower House OKs U.S. Arms Deal
May 14, 2003
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) - Helping to smooth the way for a U.S.-Russian presidential summit later this month, Russia's lower house of parliament on Wednesday ratified a landmark nuclear deal with the United States that slashes nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.
After considering the treaty in a closed-door debate, the State Duma approved the treaty 294-134, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said.
President Vladimir Putin, who lobbied parliamentary leaders Tuesday for the treaty's passage, called the Duma vote a ``convincing ratification.''
Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, still must approve the treaty, but that vote is expected to be a formality.
The U.S. Senate approved the accord, formally called the Moscow Treaty, in March but the Duma postponed its vote amid criticism of the U.S. war in Iraq.
The Duma vote came the same day Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Putin and Ivanov to pave the way for a Putin-hosted summit with President Bush at the end of the month.
``I'm especially pleased and honored to be here today that the Duma voted to ratify the treaty,'' Powell told reporters after Kremlin talks with Putin.
The Moscow Treaty calls on Russia and the United States to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds, to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads, by 2012.
The Duma's centrist majority backed the treaty Wednesday, saying it was advantageous for Russia because it would have to decommission many aging nuclear missiles anyway.
``This treaty is more important for us than the Americans,'' said Dmitry Rogozin, the chief of the Duma's international affairs committee.
But Communists and their hardline allies who voted against the treaty pointed at its provision allowing each country to stockpile the removed warheads, rather than destroy them as Russia originally wanted. The cash-strapped Russian military cannot afford to maintain nuclear arsenals on par with the United States.
``Blood on the streets of Baghdad hasn't drained yet and we are ratifying this treaty,'' Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov said. ``This treaty is a gift to Bush.''
Supporters say the treaty will allow Russia to retain its Soviet-built missiles equipped with multiple nuclear warheads, which form the core of the nation's nuclear arsenals and were to be scrapped under the earlier START II arms reduction treaty. Russia never ratified that accord.
``It will allow the Russian military to plan the development of strategic nuclear forces proceeding from national interests,'' Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said after the vote.
In the ratification documents, the Duma urged the government to provide more funds to maintain the nation's nuclear forces on a ``level that would guarantee deterrence against any aggression.''
Pointing at a treaty provision allowing each party to opt out on three months' notice, the Duma said Russia can use this in case of a ``significant buildup in strategic offensive weapons of some nation or a group of nations'' or the deployment of a missile defense system ``capable of significantly reducing the efficiency of Russia's strategic nuclear forces.''
Although it did not name the United States, the provision clearly was referring to the proposed American missile shield. Washington says the deployment of missile defenses is not aimed against Moscow, but many Russian lawmakers and military officials were concerned that such deployment could erode the deterrent value of Russia's nuclear arsenals.