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US Senate Ratifies US-Russia Nuclear Reduction Treaty - 2003-03-07

The U.S. Senate late Thursday unanimously ratified by a 95-0 vote a treaty between the United States and Russia to reduce both countries' nuclear weapons stockpiles.

The treaty, signed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin last May, would cut U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear warheads by two-thirds, down to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist praised the accord. "The treaty is remarkable because it encompasses the most dramatic reductions in strategic nuclear weapons every envisioned between two nuclear powers," he said.

But some Democrats expressed concerns that the pact allows weapons to be stored rather than destroyed, raising the possibility that terrorists could get access to them.

Senator Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said "I worry that if Russia does not destroy [their warheads], that we will find ourselves susceptible to the clandestine sale or the actual stealing of these materials into the hands of people who do not have our interests at hand."

Committee chairman Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana agreed, saying the accord is not sufficient without a strengthening of the U.S. funded program he co-founded 12 years ago to help former Soviet republics dismantle their weapons. "We must work with Russia to make certain that these dangerous weapons do not fall into the wrong hands," he said.

Some lawmakers also worried about what they called the treaty's lack of verification measures.

But despite the concerns, Senators acknowledged that rejection of the treaty would be a harsh blow to U.S. Russian relations, especially when President Bush would like a commitment from Russia that it would not veto a United Nations resolution authorizing force against Iraq.