Barack Obama

Russia's Medvedev optimistic U.S. will ratify START

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday he was optimistic that the U.S. Senate would ratify a strategic nuclear arms reduction pact that is a linchpin of improving relations between Moscow and Washington.

Medvedev also said that if Russia failed to find its place in a missile defense system with NATO, Moscow and Washington would face “unpleasant decisions” -- reiterating the Kremlin’s demand for a satisfactory role in a European missile shield.

Medvedev was speaking during a visit to India before a U.S. Senate vote, possibly later on Wednesday, on the New START treaty he signed with President Barack Obama in April.

“I think you understand that if the Americans don’t do this, we will not ratify this treaty -- we agreed that we would do it in parallel,” he told students in Mumbai.

“But I am an optimistic on this and I believe that it will be ratified,” he said, wishing Obama success in winning approval for the pact, which some Republicans oppose.

The treaty would commit the former Cold War foes to reducing the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads on each side to 1,550 within seven years, among other limits. It would also establish monitoring and verification measures.

Lawmakers in both countries must ratify the pact for it to enter into force.

The Kremlin-backed United Russia party dominates Russia’s parliament, so ratification in Moscow is all but assured if the U.S. Senate approves the treaty without changes.

Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in the lower house, said on Monday that Russian lawmakers would carefully examine the U.S. Senate’s resolution of ratification and other declarations before proceeding with their own vote, but that it could conceivably be held this year.

Adoption of the treaty is expected to shore up trust between Moscow and Washington, but Russia has stressed that it reserves the right to withdraw if the United States develops missile defense systems that the Kremlin views as a threat to Russian security.

Medvedev repeated his warning that if U.S. and NATO offers of cooperation on missile defense fail to produce plans that satisfy Russia, relations could sour fast and Moscow could deploy weapons to combat a perceived threat.

“If we do not find our place in this system -- and this will be clear in the next three to five, maybe seven years -- future generations of Russian and American politicians will have to take very unpleasant decisions,” he said.

Writing by Steve Gutterman and Paul de Bendern; editing by David Stamp