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Russia Approves Nuclear Arms Control Treaty

The upper chamber of the Russian Parliament gave final approval to the New Start nuclear arms control treaty on Wednesday, a key foreign policy goal of the Obama administration, reports The New York Times.

“The arms race is a thing of the past,” the chair of the international affairs committee in the Russian senate, Mikhail Margelov, told Radio Russia on Monday. “The disarmament race is taking its place.”

The treaty, the first major revamping of nuclear disarmament deals since the late cold war era, sets new limits for strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems, the doomsday weapons of a nuclear exchange. The pact requires the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals to levels slightly lower than today’s — down to 1,550 warheads each, from between 1,700 and 2,200 now — within seven years of ratification, and to immediately renew mutual inspections.

Initially seen as a jumping off point for more ambitious reductions in nuclear weapons held by both countries, the treaty proved far harder to ratify in the United States than expected. It was approved late last month, after a bruising Senate fight.

The Russian process — in a Parliament dominated by pro-Kremlin parties — went more smoothly, and usually hard-line figures here were making celebratory comments earlier this week.

Duma members had voted 350 to 56 for the treaty on Tuesday, far surpassing the 226 votes needed for ratification. Only the Communist and Liberal Democratic parties voted against the treaty.

But, mirroring the process that occurred earlier in the United States Senate, the Russians intend to append a nonbinding statement of interpretation that will formalize what amounts to an agreement to disagree on the American missile defense program, which Russia opposes.

The treaty’s preamble notes a connection between offensive and defense strategic weapons that the United States has interpreted to mean that the treaty does not impose limits on missile-defense systems. The Russians are expected to say, in commentary to be released after ratification, that it does.

“They are welcome to interpret any language of the treaty as they want, but that interpretation is not legally binding on the United States,” Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a telephone interview.