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Europe: Negotiators Aim For Deep Reductions In Conventional Weapons

Vienna, 24 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Arms negotiators from the United States, Russia and 28 other countries have reached a preliminary agreement which could eventually lead to cuts in the number of tanks, artillery and other conventional forces in Europe.

it is the first stage in a revision of the 1990 CFE Treaty between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact which placed limits on the number of tanks, artillery, armored cars, warplanes and battle helicopters in Europe between the Atlantic and the Urals.

The first stage, completed in Vienna last night, establishes the basic elements for adapting the 1990 Treaty. The basic change agreed last night is in the way the number and location of conventional forces is organised. The 1990 agreement remains on a bloc-to-bloc basis as though the Warsaw Pact still existed. A new covenant is to recognize both national ceilings and regional ceilings.

National ceilings will set the total number of tanks, artillery, armored cars, warplanes and battle helicopters any government may hold. A ceiling will be set for each category of weapon.

Regional ceilings may be even more important for European security. They will limit the number of forces a country may deploy in another territory. For example, the number of Russian troops which may be deployed in Armenia, or American troops in Poland.

The agreement reached last night says the level of forces stationed in another country must be counted against the national ceilings. Last night's agreements specifically says that no country can deploy conventional armed forces on the territory of another without that country's agreement. This was part of the 1990 treaty also. Diplomats said it was reaffirmed in the present negotiations at the insistence of Azerbaijan and some other countries.

The next stage of negotiations, which begins in September, will negotiate the fine details of these changes, including the actual numbers of tanks, artillery and other weapons for each country.

The agreement reached last night stresses that no government will be allowed to build-up so much force in a given area that it might destabilize the region.

THe agreement doesn't mention a particular region. But separate statement issued by Turkey demonstrated concern about a possible buildup of Russian forces in the Caucasus that could threaten its security.

In the words of the statement: "Turkey will not enter into any negotiations prejudicial to these regional sub-limits." These regional sub-limits were included in the 1990 Treaty only after long and difficult negotiations in which Turkey expressed its concern about large numbers of Russian forces close to its borders.

Delegates told our correspondent today they hope the agreement next year will satisfy all countries that their security is protected and persuade them to reduce the level of forces they maintain under the new national and territorial ceilings.

In a separate statement, the United States said it already has substantially reduced the number of tanks, artillery and other weapons permanently based in Europe because of the better security climate. And, if the present negotiations are successful, it is prepared to make further cuts, including a 55 percent cut in the number of tanks it maintains in Europe.

Negotiators considered Russia's separate statement also positive by the other negotiators. It noted that its level of conventional forces already is considerably lower than that allowed. It said that if next year's final agreement is satisfactory, it will maintain the present low levels.

A conference spokesman said that if all goes well, the negotiations should be concluded by the summer of next year. The resulting treaty then would have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, the Russian Duma and the parliaments of the other states.