Duma may consider START II ratification this month

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia indicated Monday it may be looking for a way to end a dispute over U.S. plans to build a limited nuclear defense system by considering creating a system of its own.

The decision could clear the way for a missile defense system at Delta Junction, one of two sites being considered for such a complex.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Duma, said the body is likely Friday to take up ratification of the START II treaty on cutting nuclear arsenals, following a push for approval by President Vladimir Putin.

The treaty's prospects have jumped since a new parliament was elected in December. Communists and nationalists who had blocked ratification lost their dominance in the elections.

Ratification could help clear the way for a compromise with the United States over the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Washington wants to amend the treaty to allow for the construction of a limited missile-defense system to protect against nuclear attacks by so-called ''rogue states.''

Russia has strongly objected, saying that such a defense could unravel all nuclear arms control treaties with Washington.

But there were signs Monday that Russia is reconsidering its strategy of flat-out objection.

The Russian Security Council, which includes Putin, the parliamentary speakers and other officials, on Monday discussed START II as part of a ''package'' including a possible ''non-strategic missile defense system,'' council secretary Sergei Ivanov said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Ivanov said such a system would be designed to defend against attacks by countries that do not have nuclear weapons, but could develop them. Further details were not immediately available.

Possibly trying to avoid the appearance of backing down in the face of strong U.S. pressure, Ivanov insisted that Moscow was acting independently. ''This is not related to the ABM Treaty,'' ITAR-Tass quoted Ivanov as saying.

Russia's failure to ratify the START II treaty, which would halve each side's nuclear arsenal to about 3,000-3,500 warheads, has been a longtime irritant in relations with the United States. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1996.

Putin has urged lawmakers to ratify the treaty, saying that reducing the nuclear arsenal does not mean becoming weaker. Reducing the number of warheads also is seen as a good economic move, saving the cash-strapped government substantial sums that it now spends on maintaining the weapons.

Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said the international affairs and defense committees will urge lawmakers to address the issue at their Friday session.

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