- Associated Press - Friday, November 19, 2010

MOSCOW (AP) — Is the reset on the rocks?

Rumblings in Washington by the resurgent Republican Party against Senate ratification of the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty raise doubts about a fragile U.S.-Russian rapprochement — the “reset” that has been a centerpiece of President Obama’s diplomacy.

An unraveling of ties, which hit post-Cold War lows during the administration of George W. Bush, would erode global stability at a time of burgeoning security threats and harm international efforts to stem the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

New START bolstered mutual trust, helping Washington win crucial Kremlin backing for a new set of sanctions against Iran and stronger support for the war in Afghanistan.

“The failure to ratify the treaty will deal a very painful blow to Obama’s administration and the policy of ‘reset,’” said Sergei Rogov, head of the Moscow-based U.S.A. and Canada Institute, a top think-tank advising the government on foreign policy.

If “the administration can’t deliver what it promised, it would seriously undermine Obama’s position in the international arena.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry sought to play down a statement from Sen. Jon Kyl, a leading Republican, who spoke against holding a ratification vote this year. But it warned that the process should go forward in both countries at the same time.

Obama on Thursday urged the Senate to ratify the treaty, appearing at the White House with former secretaries of state and defense of both parties who all support it.

“This is not about politics,” he said. “It’s about national security.”

Some Kremlin-connected legislators and political pundits said Senate failure to ratify the agreement would likely push Moscow to rethink its relationship with the United States.

Mikhail Margelov, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, said Moscow may reconsider its stance on Iran and Afghanistan if the treaty fails.

“We should agree with Vice President Joe Biden who fears that due to procrastinations with the ratification, the United States may lose Moscow’s vital support in tackling the problem of Iran and in the war in Afghanistan,” Margelov was quoted in Russian news reports as saying. “The continuation of ‘reset’ that envisages the development of partnership on security issues hinges on the treaty’s ratification.”

Moscow backed the latest set of U.N. sanctions against Iran in June and later shelved a 2007 contract to supply Iran with sophisticated S-300 air defense missile systems that drew strong U.S. and Israeli concerns. The moves angered Tehran, which accused Moscow of kowtowing to the West.

The Kremlin also has offered stronger support for NATO operations in Afghanistan, allowing the alliance to carry supplies across the Russian territory. A Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon this weekend is expected to see the signing of a new deal on the so-called “reverse” transit that would allow NATO to ship cargo back from Afghanistan.

Rogov said Russia would be unlikely to backtrack on its moves regarding Iran and Afghanistan, even if the Senate fails to seal the arms deal, but that it would close the door to any further friendly action.

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