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Russia to call urgent conference on arms control

By RIA Novosti

Vienna : Russia plans to call an emergency meeting of the signatories to the treaty on conventional armed forces in Europe, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

"We have to defuse this increasingly absurd situation in the sphere of weapons control," the foreign minister said at an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) forum in this Austrian capital.

Lavrov said that Western signatories' linkage of the adapted Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty ratification with Russia's fulfillment of the "Istanbul Agreements" have "turned the European arms control process into an instrument for achieving political goals that have nothing to do with European security or arms control."

The Western powers at the 1999 meeting in Istanbul to adapt the CFE to post-Cold War situation asked Russia to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia as a conditionality for signing the force reduction treaty.

"Without the clear prospect of an adapted CFE treaty entering into force, it would be irresponsible to keep pretending to act in the arms control sphere," the Russian diplomat said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said in Moscow last week that a special conference would take place soon to discuss Moscow's plans to impose a moratorium on the CFE treaty.

Russia has ratified the CFE treaty, which replaced an agreement reached at the end of the Cold War between NATO and the Eastern Bloc to curb the arms race. But of the countries that initially signed the pact, no NATO members have yet ratified it, demanding that Russia first withdraw from Soviet-era bases in Georgia and Moldova under the Istanbul Agreements.

President Vladimir Putin suggested recently that Moscow might suspend its obligations under the accord if talks with NATO countries show no visible progress in its implementation.

Russian first Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Wednesday Russia would no longer receive foreign inspections or notify movement of troops under the CFE treaty.

The original CFE treaty, amended in 1999 in Istanbul in line with post-Cold War realities, has so far only been ratified by Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. The aim of the pact is to force members to reduce their conventional military forces.

Moscow has pointed out that NATO newcomers Slovakia and the three Baltic states have not joined the CFE treaty at all, despite a preliminary agreement that they would do so.