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Europe

START nuclear arms pact wins resounding victory in first Russian vote

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty went to Russia's lower house of parliament for an initial vote Friday, winning a huge majority. Full ratification is not expected until mid-January after the body's winter recess.

A plenary session of the State Duma, Moscow

The Duma is expected to ratify the treaty in mid-January

Russia's lower house of parliament voted overwhelmingly to move forward a historic nuclear arms pact with the United States on Friday, shortly before going on winter holiday.

The Duma voted 350-58 in favor of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which was passed by the US Senate on Wednesday after a lengthy political battle. The treaty was expected to face far less of a fight in Russia's parliament, which is dominated by President Dmitry Medvedev's United Russia party.

Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told lawmakers before the vote that the treaty would not undermine Russian security, but that it "will bring Russian-American relations to a qualitatively new level… and is welcomed by the entire global community." A rejection "would deal a serious blow to the reputation of Russia."

The agreement would slash the two sides' nuclear arsenals to 1,550 deployed warheads per side.

The White House announced on Thursday that Medvedev had called US President Barack Obama to congratulate him on the treaty's passing in the US.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev presenting the New START treaty in April 2010

Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed the START treaty back in April

Medvedev also said in an end-of-year interview on Russian television that Obama "fulfills his promises" and that he managed to secure the Senate's approval "in rather difficult circumstances."

Delay until January

Head lawmakers also hailed the agreement as a signal that relations between the former cold war enemies were headed in the right direction.

"There are times when our interests do not contradict each other," said the upper chamber's foreign affairs committee chairman Mikhail Margelov. "This is precisely one of those times."

The Duma is expected to attach its own non-binding amendments to the pact, as the US Senate did earlier this week to allay Republican concerns with the agreement.

It expects to complete a second and final third reading after returning from recess on January 11. An approval by the upper chamber, the Federation Council, is also necessary for ratification.

Authors: Andrew Bowen, David Levitz (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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