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Russia Postpones Ratification of Nuclear Weapons Treaty - 2003-03-18

Russian officials say they do not believe the time for diplomacy on Iraq is over.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko says Russia does not believe that the time has come to abandon diplomatic efforts to avert war in Iraq.

Mr. Yakovenko said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was traveling to New York to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting about Iraq on Wednesday. As Mr. Ivanov prepared to travel, the deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, Oleg Chernov, said Russia would do all it could to restore peace, if war breaks out in Iraq.

Additionally, the Russian parliament, the Duma, postponed indefinitely a scheduled vote on ratification of a landmark nuclear weapons treaty with the United States.

The deputy head of the parliament's committee on international affairs, Sergei Shishkariov, said it is possible parliament would vote on the treaty in April. But Mr. Shishkariov added that ratification depended on how seriously the United States considers Russia's views on Iraq.

He said the Duma took the action because of what he called unprecedented pressure on Russia and other nations that are seeking to resolve the stand-off over Iraq peacefully.

Only days ago, U.S. and Russian officials expressed confidence that disagreements over Iraq would not scuttle Russian ratification of the treaty.

The agreement calls for both nations to reduce their nuclear weapons stockpiles by two-thirds. The Senate unanimously approved the treaty more than a week ago, in a move viewed by some as an effort to secure Russian backing for tougher action against Iraq.

Breaking days of silence on the subject, President Putin said Monday that war against Iraq would be a mistake that would have serious consequences. Mr. Putin discussed the Iraqi crisis by telephone with China's president. The Kremlin press service said both leaders agreed that Iraqi disarmament could only be achieved through peaceful means.