Russia may review U.S. arms pact approval plans

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A top Russian lawmaker said on Friday he would ask colleagues to reopen debate on the New START nuclear arms treaty with the United States, adding to uncertainty over the chances for approval in both nations.

The treaty, which would set new, lower limits on Russian and American nuclear arsenals, is the most prominent product of President Barack Obama’s effort -- embraced by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev -- to “reset” strained relations.

Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in the State Duma, said Russian lawmakers should consider attaching conditions to ratification of the New START pact in response to similar efforts by U.S. Senate Republicans.

“I will advise my colleagues to ... return to discussion of our conditions for ratification,” Kosachyov, a member of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party, said in a blog on the website of Ekho Moskvy radio.

Kosachyov’s committee had earlier advised the Duma, Russia’s lower parliament house, to ratify the treaty -- which requires approval by lawmakers in both countries to come into force -- at about the same time the Senate does so.

But he said on Friday that conservative U.S. Republicans were jeopardizing the treaty by affixing “unilateral declarations” to a Senate ratification resolution, some of which could have legal force if the treaty is approved.

Kosachyov told Reuters that he was “not suggesting refusal to ratify the treaty” but that he would ask the Duma committee next week to return to discussions and add “its own interpretations.”

“It’s a shame that the current American activity in a direction away from ratification ... could block the reset button,” he wrote in the blog, voicing concern that Republican gains could set back broader improvements in ties.

Kosachyov said Russia would have to “significantly refine” its own ratification bill, clearly setting out implementation guidelines, plans for the development of nuclear forces and circumstances under which Moscow could withdraw from the pact.

He did not explain any potential conditions or declarations in detail.

U.S. backers hope for a vote in a “lame duck” session after elections on Tuesday in which Republicans could make gains, potentially making it harder for the White House to win the 67 votes needed for ratification once the new Senate convenes.

“In the new makeup of the Senate, where the seats will be divided roughly in half (between Democrats and Republicans), it will be even harder to gather the two-thirds of the votes needed for ratification,” Kosachyov predicted in his blog.

Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Alison Williams