- - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MOSCOW | Russia’s parliament is likely to approve a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States this month, the speaker of the lower house said Tuesday.

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the 450-seat chamber, dominated by the ruling United Russia Party, could approve ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in a third and final vote on Jan. 25. The Duma voted preliminary approval last month.

The treaty, signed by Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in April, will commit the former Cold War foes to lower limits on the number of strategic nuclear weapons.

Analysts say rejection of the pact — which was praised by powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin late last year — is highly unlikely. The treaty is seen as one of Mr. Medvedev’s few major foreign policy achievements.

Proposed changes to the ratification law, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, seek to emphasize Russia’s right to withdraw from the treaty if it thinks national security is threatened by a U.S. missile shield or other Western military deployments.

Such declarations have no legal impact on the treaty, but they suggests diplomatic tension could increase if Russia is dissatisfied with the way Western missile defenses develop.

Meanwhile, a new agreement that will allow U.S. companies to export nuclear energy technology to Russia went into effect Tuesday, with the U.S. ambassador describing it as a “major step forward” in joint efforts to promote the peaceful use of nuclear power.

The civilian nuclear agreement, which cleared the U.S. Congress last month, allows the United States and Russia to exchange technology, engage in joint commercial nuclear power ventures and work more closely in combating nuclear proliferation.

U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle said the agreement opens the door to higher levels of cooperation, including the joint design of new technologies.

Moscow hopes the pact will lead to major contracts for its nuclear industry, including projects to enrich uranium and produce uranium fuel.

“What we are trying to achieve is to create new — I would even say innovative — technologies of the nuclear fuel cycle, develop the reactor technologies to provide on the one hand economic and energy efficiency … and on the other hand to reduce the risks of the potential improper use of the nuclear materials needed for these activities,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

From combined dispatches