Swift ratification of U.S.-Russian arms deal predicted

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

MOSCOW -- Despite some grumbling from nationalists that Russia caved in to the United States, the nuclear arms deal to be signed this week faces no serious opposition in the Russian parliament, a senior lawmaker said Tuesday.

Alexei Arbatov, deputy head of the parliament's defense affairs committee, said the lower house, which is dominated by pro-government moderates, will quickly rubber-stamp the deal.

"There are no doubts that any treaty signed by the president will be easily approved," Arbatov said at a news conference.

The accord commits each country to cutting its nuclear arsenal to 1,700 to 2,200 warheads from the approximately 6,000 each is now allowed. It is to be signed when President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow this week.

The Bush administration reluctantly agreed to Moscow's push for a formal treaty but brushed off Russian complaints about the Pentagon's plan to stockpile some of the decommissioned weapons rather than destroy them.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with lawmakers Tuesday to gather support for deal, describing it as the best compromise Russia could hope for.

"It was the most that we could get," Ivanov said. "The main achievement is that we have managed to preserve the negotiation process."

Ivanov also said the new treaty would free Russia from constraints on its strategic nuclear forces contained in previous agreements, such as the ban on the deployment of land-based missiles with multiple warheads -- the kind of weapons preferred by the Russian military for cost reasons.

Ivanov said a declaration also to be signed during the presidential summit would reflect the "limited character" of the conceived U.S. missile defense and the U.S. pledge that it wouldn't threaten Russia.

Ivanov also sought to allay lawmakers' concerns about U.S. military deployment in Central Asia for the war in Afghanistan, saying Moscow would try to "determine the timeframe for their presence."

"This issue can't leave us unconcerned," he said.

Russia's Communists and other hard-liners have assailed the nuclear deal and Putin's support of the deployment of U.S. forces in the ex-Soviet republics as national treason.

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