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N-treaty and tax on Congress agenda

The new nuclear arms reduction treaty between the US and Russia will dominate the agenda as the American Congress begins its "lame duck" session this week.

Ordinary Americans will be watching closely for signs about how much tax they will pay in the coming years as Congress holds its last session before the new Republican majority takes control of the House of Representatives.

But more important for the larger world is Senate ratification of the new Start pact with Russia.

The new treaty, signed by US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in April, has still not been approved by the Senate as required by the American Constitution.

The pact must receive 67 votes in the 100-seat Senate and historically the upper chamber has overwhelmingly approved such treaties, but the rabid partisanship gripping US politics has put Senate approval in question.

The Russians have signalled that progress on Mr Obama's policy of resetting the US-Russian relationship, which deteriorated badly under former president George Bush, hangs on approval of the treaty.

Failure to ratify the pact, which continues cuts in nuclear armaments constructed during the Cold War arms race, could result in Russia ending help it has recently given Mr Obama as he tries to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

"When we look upon how important Russian support has been" on Iran sanctions and the Afghanistan supply route, "my hope is that because this is a good treaty we should get it done", Mr Obama told reporters on Air Force One as he returned home from the Apec Pacific rim summit in Japan.

During meetings in Asia last week, Mr Obama assured Mr Medvedev of ratification.

"I reiterated my commitment to getting the Start treaty done during the lame-duck session," Mr Obama said on Sunday after talks with Mr Medvedev on the sidelines of the Apec summit.

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