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US Senate ratifies new START accord for nuclear reduction

US lawmakers voted to ratify a crucial treaty with Russia forcing both countries to reduce their stockpile of active nuclear warheads by some 30 percent, giving President Barack Obama a major political victory.

US Senator John Kerry

Senator Kerry led the Senate battle for New START ratification

The US Senate on Wednesday voted to ratify the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, ending weeks of uncertainty over one of President Barack Obama's key foreign policy priorities.

The final vote was 71-26, well above the necessary two-thirds majority needed for ratification of New START, with several Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the treaty.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Obama and Medvedev signed the treaty in April

Under the accord, Russia and the United States pledge to cut their stockpile of active nuclear warheads to 1,550 within seven years, or about 30 percent from when the first START, signed in 1991, expired a year ago. Both countries would have the right to inspect the other's progress.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed news of the ratification but said that Moscow would need time to "study" the US document wording, noting that there had been a change in the text since its initial draft.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the news as an "important milestone in the development of a true partnership with Russia," with the treaty to play a part in NATO's strategic concept. Merkel added that she hoped the treaty would lead to further disarmament.

'A decade of disarmament'

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle claimed that the vote "sets the course for a decade of disarmament and affirms President Obama's vision for a world free of nuclear weapons."

"We are counting on Russia to now also ratify the treaty quickly," Westerwelle said, adding that Germany would use its place on the United Nations Security Council for the next two years to push for disarmament and arms control.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the decision would make a "significant contribution" to regional security and that it would lead to "progress on conventional and nuclear arms control initiatives."


'Necessary to deal with future threats'

A Titan II nuclear missile

The number of deployed warheads is to be cut by both sides

Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who argued in favor of the ratification, said the pact would ultimately help efforts to confront nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea.

"I am confident that our nation's security, and that of the world, will be enhanced by ratifying this treaty," he said. The treaty "is not simply an agreement to address the lingering dangers of the old nuclear age. It is an agreement that will give us a crucial tool to combat the threats of this new nuclear age."

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START in April after a year of negotiations between diplomats from the two countries. Approval by the Russian Duma is now all but certain.

Author: Andrew Bowen, Richard Connor (Reuters, AP)
Editor: Holly Fox

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