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Russia offers to revive European arms-control deal

world Updated: May 14, 2009 19:39 IST

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Russia said on Thursday it was proposing a new version of a key European arms-control treaty it suspended more than a year ago, and could once again honor the agreement if the US and its NATO allies accept the changes.

The statement by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko signaled that the Kremlin hopes for better ties with Washington under President Barack Obama.

Nesterenko said Russia is proposing to negotiate revisions in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty with the US. He added that other nations could also join the talks.

The 1990 treaty limits the number of tanks, aircraft and other heavy non-nuclear weapons that could be deployed west of the Ural Mountains _ the edge of European Russia. A new revised version was signed in 1999, but NATO countries have not ratified it and in 2007 Russia suspended its participation.

“Russia believes that chances to revive the treaty still exist,” Nesterenko said at a briefing. He said Russia had formally submitted its proposals for changes in the treaty to other partners in the CFE treaty earlier this month.

Russia said the original treaty became obsolete after several former Soviet republics and satellite nations joined NATO. Former President Vladimir Putin, who now serves as a powerful prime minister, has said that the CFE treaty limited the nation’s ability to respond to threats on its own territory.

Putin once likened the restrictions Russia faces under the existing treaty to a situation in which the US would have to seek Russian approval before it sent troops from California to Texas.

The West has insisted that Russia must honor a promise to pull out its troops from Georgia and the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester in Moldova before NATO moves to ratify the revised treaty. Russia shrugged off the demands as irrelevant.

Nesterenko said Russia wants to remove “discriminatory” restrictions on deployment of military forces on its territory, to lower weapons numbers and to make sure that new NATO members observe the revised treaty.

“A US-Russian draft package solution, if substantially improved, could serve as a basis for breaking the deadlock,” Nesterenko said. “The main task is to make it really well-balanced.”

Russia’s ties with the US plummeted to a post-Cold War low under the Bush administration amid sharp disputes over American missile defense plans and Russia’s war with Georgia in August.

The Obama administration has signaled a desire to improve ties with Moscow and sought to quickly negotiate a successor deal to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expires at year’s end.