Washington, 13 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. Senate plans to begin debating today ratification of a key treaty amendment linked to NATO expansion and other key European security issues.
Congressional experts say they expect the so-called "Flank Agreement," updating the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), to go through the legislative process with relative ease, although behind the scenes there was some controversy.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee finished its business with the proposed legislation late last week and sent it to the full Senate with 14 additional amendments, clauses and conditions.
Most are safeguards to make sure that Russia keeps within the set limits, does not station its forces in other republics without clear and voluntary consent by the host country, and does not take anyone else's unused armamant quota to augment its own.
But one proposed amendment would erode the power of the White House to make foreign policy decisions.
It would oblige the U.S. president to submit for Senate approval any request by a former Soviet republic to join the 1972 bilateral U.S.-Soviet Antiballistic Missile Treaty (ABM).
The White House maintains that U.S. Senate consent is not necessary for the former Soviet republics to become parties to the ABM treaty and has been negotiating quietly with some senators to get the language changed.
The likely result, according to Washington arms control expert Jack Mendelsohn, will be to soften the final text, urging Senate approval on additional ABM signatories but not making it mandatory.
He says legislators have simply taken advantage of the CFE treaty to score a hit in their long-standing struggle with the executive branch for more control over foreign policy.
"But even if the ABM clause stays in, it will not affect the basic limits and framework of the Flank Agreement," Mendelsohn said.
That was agreed to in principle by 30 signatories to the CFE treaty in Vienna a year ago. They also agreed on this Thursday, May 15, as the deadline for ratification.
That leaves little time for Russia and seven other newly independent states that have yet to ratify the Flank Agreement.
U.S. officials say that most of the independent states have now dropped remaining objections to the Flank Agreement and likely will approve it by the deadline.
Russia's approval can be given by President Boris Yeltsin in an executive decree without going through the Duma.
With the exception of Russia, most of the republics are already complying with the required limits on deployments of tanks, armored combat vehicles and artillery.
Russia refused, saying new political realities required a loosening of the arms restrictions, particularly on its southern border.
It gets some of what it wanted in the Flank Agreement which formalizes a shift from regional to national, territorial and border zone restrictions on conventional forces, and it exempts some border areas in Russia and Ukraine. But both countries have to stay within overall national limits.
Several objections by non-Russian states, including Ukraine and Georgia, concerned provisions in the proposed Flank Agreement, giving Russia the right to temporarily build up forces.
Those provisions were also criticized by U.S. legislators as possibly legitimizing Russia's military presence outside its own borders. They drafted several amendments to safeguard against that interpretation.
First on the list of U.S. attachments to the Flank Agreement that will be debated today is a finding of the Senate that Russian forces are now deployed on the territories of other states "without the full and complete agreement of those states."
The Senate amendment urges the U.S. Secretary of State to make it a priority to open talks "with the objective of securing the immediate withdrawal of all armed forces and military equipment under the control of the Russian Federation deployed on the territory of any state" without its full agreement.
Half a dozen clauses reinforce the message. One adds specifically that Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan are entitled to reject any request for temporary deployment on their territory and any request for a reallocation of their current arms quota."
The amendment recognizes the right of every signatory to "territorial integrity and the freedom and political independence."
Another major concern expressed in the senate amendments is monitoring and verification of compliance with the conventional weapons restrictions.
Unless the proposed legislation goes through some last-minute changes, the State Department will have to report four times a year to congressional committees on compliance efforts and issue an annual country report assessing the way each signatory state is fulfilling its obligations under the Flank Agreement.
In a verification amendment, U.S. senators singled out Armenia, mandating a special compliance report to determine whether that nation is moving conventional arms to separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh province in neigboring Azerbaijan.
Another provision also urges the U.S. president to support any move by the three Baltic states and Slovenia, as well as other states in Central and Eastern Europe to join the CFE treaty. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are not presently signatories to the CFE treaty or its modernizing Flank Agreement.
The 30 countries which are signatories -- NATO members, Central Europeans, and Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Armenia, as well as Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan -- have already decided to broaden the CFE Treaty with CFE Two.
Washington experts say it's principle thrust is to extend the shift from regional blocks to national and territorial limits to Western Europe.
Governments of the former Warsaw Pact countries and NATO members are already working out the basic elements of the treaty and hope to have those in place this summer. They expect further work and negotiations on CFE Two to continue for four years.
So if any one of the 30 signatory states fails to approve the Flank Agreement by the May 15 deadline, its provisions would technically be open to renegotiation, going back to the drawing board.
But Washington experts say as a practical matter the Flank Agreement contents would probably be absorbed into the CFE Two negotiations. Meanwhile, they say the CFE One signatories would voluntarily keep to agreed quotas and ceilings.