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Politics

START negotiator sees early Senate ratification

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.S. negotiator on the new START arms reduction treaty with Russia voiced optimism on Thursday that the Senate would ratify the pact by late September, before the White House’s official year-end target.

“My view is we need to move as expeditiously as possible. My own goal is to look very hard this summer and see if we can get the treaty ratified sooner than the end of the year,” Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State, told reporters.

Gottemoeller, speaking ahead of her appearance next week at a Senate hearing, said that she hoped START could be ratified this summer, which ends on September 21 in the United States.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague in April but both sides need to ratify the deal, which will cut their deployed nuclear warheads by 30 percent within seven years.

Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties must secure two-thirds approval to win Senate ratification.

Obama has said he hopes the U.S. Senate will ratify the pact by November, before U.S. congressional elections set for November 2, but the administration’s official deadline is the end of the year, according to Gottemoeller.

The Senate faces a large workload between now and the election, including tougher regulation of the financial industry and confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee.

“STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION”

Gottemoeller said ratification was a priority in arms control, noting that verification mechanisms under the previous 1991 START pact had expired last December, leaving a vacuum.

Like the U.S. Senate, Russia’s parliament, the Duma, is holding hearings and needs to approve the deal.

Gottemoeller led the U.S. delegation in the year-long negotiations, mainly conducted in Geneva, alongside her counterpart Anatoly Antonov, head of the foreign ministry’s department of security and disarmament.

Gottemoeller and Antonov briefed the United Nations Conference on Disarmament on Thursday about the treaty.

“It is an important step in the right direction,” Pakistan’s ambassador Zamir Akram said, adding that much more needed to be done in the area of nuclear disarmament.

Pakistan has blocked agreement to launch global negotiations to halt production of nuclear bomb-making fissile material at the talks, which require consensus for all decisions. Pakistan argues this would put it at a permanent disadvantage to India, with which it has fought three wars since independence in 1947.

“We have the right to use the rule of consensus to ensure our security concerns are not compromised in any manner,” Akram said on Thursday.

The five official nuclear powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- have all halted their production of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium through informal moratoriums, he said. This was because their fissile stocks were sufficient.

Gottemoeller said that efforts continued to try to persuade Pakistan to go along with fissile negotiations, but declined to give details on what inducements the United States or China may be offering Islamabad.

“A lot of serious discussions are going on behind the scenes. There is certainly an effort to recognize Pakistan’s security concerns and at the same time find a way forward for negotiations to begin,” she said.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn

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