Russian Action Tightens Already Tense Relations With U.S.

Saturday, July 14th 2007, 2:52 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Russia's plan to quit an arms control treaty tightens already tense ties with the U.S. and adds new friction to the dispute over the Bush administration's intentions for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Moscow's announcement did not surprise the White House because it had been threatened for months. Advisers insisted that attempts by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin to soothe relations during their relaxed meeting in Kennebunkport, Maine, this month would not be upended by Russia's decision to pull out of the treaty in 150 days.

``We're disappointed Russia has suspended its participation for now, but we'll continue to have discussions with them in the coming months on the best way to proceed in this area _ that is in the interest of all parties involved and provides for security in Europe,'' Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a brief statement.

Russia and NATO signed the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in Paris in 1990. The treaty, aimed at maintaining stability in Europe, puts limits on how many tanks, armored combat vehicles, attack helicopters and combat aircraft that countries can deploy in Eastern Europe.

The treaty was amended in 1999 to reflect the breakup of the former Soviet Union.

The amended treaty required Moscow to remove military assets from two former Soviet republics, Moldova and Georgia. Russia ratified the amended treaty and claims it can no longer tolerate a situation where it was complying with the treaty but its partners were not.

The U.S. and other NATO nations say they will not sign the amendments until Russia completely withdraws from Georgia, where it has an old base with a couple hundred personnel, and from Moldova, where it has about 49 trainloads of munitions and Russian forces that the West wants to turn into an international force.

A senior administration official, who only spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said the U.S. already had started talking with the Russians and other parties to try to reach an understanding that so that after 150 days, Moscow does not actually pull out of the treaty.

The official acknowledged that the treaty issue was at least indirectly linked to the missile defense issue, but said the administration was moving forward to resolve that dispute.

The U.S. says it needs the missile shield to provide protection from Iran. Putin says Iran is not a threat and believes the project based in his backyard would curtail Russia's sphere of influence. The U.S. is prepared to start discussions with the Russians this month on ways to cooperate on missile defense, the official said.

Last month, Putin surprised Bush by proposing a Soviet-era early warning radar in Azerbaijan as a substitute for putting radar and interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic. Washington has been clear that it doubts the Azerbaijan facility is a suitable substitute. At their meeting in Maine, Putin fleshed out his idea.

Putin proposed possibly modernizing the Azerbaijan station. He suggested bringing more European nations into the decision-making process about how the shield is structured and maybe incorporating a radar system in southern Russia. He said information-exchange centers in Moscow and possibly Brussels, Belgium.