Russian lawmakers say 'not so fast' on START Treaty ratification

Russia's lower house of parliament — State Duma — gave tentative approval to the nuclear arms treaty that President Obama worked so hard to push through the lame-duck session, but it signaled that full ratification wouldn't be until January "at the earliest."

Russian lawmakers signaled apprehension at two amendments to the New START Treaty passed this week by the Senate in its final ratification of the arms pact.

One amendment stresses the U.S. will advance its missile defense, and the other requires the president to modernize the nuclear arsenal. Republicans had withheld support for the treaty out of fears that the preamble left the door open for Russia to veto a fourth stage of missile defense.

But now Russian lawmakers want their own amendments.

"We don't have the right to leave their interpretations unanswered," Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee, told reporters Friday, according to The Associated Press. "Otherwise, it may give additional advantages to our American partners — or, possibly, opponents. We need to balance those advantages."

The last-minute delay came after Duma members had indicated they were willing to go forward with quick approval of the treaty that Obama and Democrats said needed rapid approval due to national security concerns.

"If the conditions stated in the resolution do not touch the core text of the treaty, then we can ratify it tomorrow," Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who heads the majority United Russia faction, told reporters Thursday, according to The Moscow Times.

Now, Kosachev said, the treaty would require at least three full readings before moving forward on ratification. Or, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev can make his own additions to the treaty and submit to the Duma for a single reading.

Russian lawmakers will return Jan. 11 from the holiday recess. The treaty will need approval from the Federation Council, which is the upper house of parliament.

Both houses of parliament are controlled by the Kremlin's party, United Russia. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed lawmakers Friday, stressing the Kremlin wants the treaty approved quickly.

"The ratification is a priority task for the state," Lavrov said, according to The Associated Press. "But we must do it in such a way that no one has any doubts about our determination to firmly demand the fulfillment of the treaty's conditions."

When Obama and Medvedev signed the treaty in April, they agreed the treaty would be ratified by both sides "synchronously." But several Russian officials said this didn't mean automatic approval after the Senate debate and vote, according to The Moscow Times.

The Duma vote Friday was 350-58. Communists and Liberal Democrats voted against ratification, unable to come near the total of the Kremlin-controlled bloc.

On Russian TV Friday, Medvedev praised Obama's role in the 71-26 passage by the Senate.

"He did a great job, succeeding in his push for the ratification of this very important document, the New START in quite difficult conditions," Medvedev said. "I told him: Barack, you have a rest now."

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