Ratification of U.S.-Russia nuclear weapons treaty put off because of Iraq

Tuesday, March 18th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia's lower house of parliament on Tuesday decided to indefinitely put off a vote on ratification of a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty because of the U.S. threat of war against Iraq.

The treaty, agreed to last May by Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush, calls on both nations to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds, to 1,700 to 2,200 deployed warheads, by 2012.

“After yesterday's statement by the president of the United States, and in conditions of massive pressure by the U.S. administration on the world community, a decision to postpone the ratification was taken,” said Sergei Shishkaryov, the deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in the lower house, or State Duma.

“We consider ratification very important, but now this step is not justified.”

Russian lawmakers had planned to submit the treaty to the full Duma for a vote on Friday. The decision Tuesday by the Duma Council, which sets the agenda for the legislature, did not include a new date, and Shishkaryov said the council would take up the matter again only in April.

The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, suggested Tuesday that the Duma's decision to postpone a vote was “premature.” The treaty must be approved by both houses.

“This treaty plays an important strategic role for both Russia and the United States,” Sergei Mironov was quoted as saying by the Interfax Military News agency. “In ratifying this document, it is above all necessary to have long-term strategic interests in view.”

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the treaty earlier this month, a move that was widely seen as part of the U.S. diplomatic effort to win Russian support for a tougher line against Iraq.

Russia has long argued for Iraq to be disarmed solely through diplomatic pressure. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday condemned military action against Iraq, warning that war would be a mistake that could imperil world security.

The Kremlin had earlier made clear that it would not approve a U.S.-backed resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would open the way to military conflict. President Bush withdrew the resolution on Monday, and gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq or face war.