Duma, rebuking Bush, delays action on treaty

Russians put off vote on nuclear pact over Iraq

March 19, 2003|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MOSCOW - Russian lawmakers put off yesterday the ratification of a treaty to reduce the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia, a delay signaling Moscow's disapproval of Bush administration plans to wage war in Iraq.

The Kremlin has regarded passage of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which would cut arsenals to fewer than 2,200 warheads during the next decade, as a vital part of relations between Washington and Moscow. In autumn 2001, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin convinced President Bush of the need for a binding pact to cut back nuclear arms, which Bush contended could be accomplished with a handshake deal.

However, members of Russia's lower chamber of parliament, the Duma, said yesterday that Bush's ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein angered them enough to postpone ratification. The Duma had been scheduled to vote on the treaty Friday.

"The ratification will depend on how much the United States takes into consideration Russia's position on the development of the situation around Iraq," said Sergei Shishkaryov, deputy head of the Duma's committee on foreign affairs. The postponement came despite intense lobbying from the Kremlin to take a vote this week.

The Duma did not schedule a new vote date, though members said they might resume debate on the treaty next month. The U.S. Senate unanimously ratified the treaty March 6.

Arms control experts and U.S. lawmakers have debated the treaty's usefulness. Signed by Bush and Putin in May, it calls for both countries to slash their long-range nuclear warhead stockpiles by two-thirds, to between 1,700 to 2,200 warheads by 2012. But in a concession Bush fought for, it also gives both countries the option of storing deactivated warheads instead of destroying them.

The United States has warned that Russia's threat to veto any U.N. resolution authorizing war in Iraq to disarm Hussein's regime could in the short term harm U.S.-Russian relations, and diminish Russia's role in a postwar Iraq.

Alex Rodriguez writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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