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Europe: NATO Negotiators Optimistic About Conventional Weapons Treaty

Vienna, 10 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Arms negotiators in Vienna hope to reach basic agreement in a month on a new treaty limiting conventional weapons in Europe and placing restrictions on where they can be deployed.

A senior NATO negotiator told our correspondent that the timetable depends on Russia. He says Russia is trying to persuade NATO to make concessions in return for admitting three former communist countries -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The negotiator says NATO has made clear it will not make concessions and it is now up to Russia to accept this.

There are also differences between Russia and Turkey on the use of Russian forces in the Caucasus. Russia wants a special concession on the number of tanks, artillery and other weapons it can move in and out of the region.

The NATO negotiator says Turkey fears its security could be threatened if Russia is allowed too much freedom to build up its southern flank. However, he says progress had been made in bilateral talks between Russia and Turkey. Turkey has offered proposals which would allow Russia to send more troops on a temporary basis in times of crisis. A Turkish negotiator confirmed this and told RFE/RL that the Turkish government was ready to be "helpful" so long as Turkey's own security was not endangered.

Negotiators hope the basic elements of the new treaty can be presented at an upcoming NATO summit in Washington in April. Negotiations would then resume with the goal of having the completed treaty signed at the end of the year at a summit in Istanbul of the 54 members of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE). OSCE includes all European countries plus the United States and Canada.

The new treaty will replace the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), which limited the number of tanks, artillery, armored troop carriers, helicopters and war planes which can be held by NATO and the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, including Russia and Ukraine. The 1990 treaty, updated in 1996, is widely regarded as a cornerstone of the present European security system, but negotiators say it's inadequate to meet present needs.

New treaty negotiations began in 1997. The NATO negotiator -- who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity -- said they had proceeded slowly because Russia argued from the start it wanted what it called "compensation" for the enlargement of NATO. Its goal was to restrict NATO's ability to deploy forces in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic and in any other country which joined NATO later.

NATO says it has presented ideas which should satisfy Russia without offering compensation. NATO insists on the right to deploy forces in these new members in time of need and if they agree. However, to ease Russian suspicions, NATO has offered to limit the size of the forces it deploys to two divisions. It also will give prior notification to all other signatories before troops are sent -- but Russia will have no right of veto.

The NATO negotiator told RFE/RL that this solution was similar to the one Turkey had offered to Russia in regard to the Caucasus.

He said NATO expects to deploy forces in the new NATO countries "very rarely." He said that most of the time, the alliance would probably not even deploy the full allowance of two divisions.

Russia also wants to negotiate what it calls "stability measures" in some other countries. For example, it wants to be allowed to deploy extra forces on the territory of Belarus. Russia also wants extra deployment privileges in Kaliningrad -- the Russian enclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland. Russia also is seeking NATO restraints on deploying fixed wing aircraft and attack helicopters in new member countries. It has proposed numerical caps on the number of these aircraft.

NATO negotiators in Vienna told RFE/RL they were "reasonably confident" a basic agreement on major issues could be reached by the April summit. Afterward, negotiations would continue on issues such as verification.