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Russia Hints At Readiness To Restore Arms Treaty

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia hinted on May 14 it was ready to rejoin a key arms control treaty it walked away from two years ago, but said its next move depended on agreeing a wider package of deals with the United States.

Moscow and Washington have repeatedly stated they want to improve ties and "reset" their strained relations but have yet to show progress in overcoming rows over issues like NATO expansion, energy supplies, and last year's war in Georgia.

"The Russian Federation believes that the chance to revive the treaty is still there," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said at a press briefing in Moscow on May 14.

In December 2007, Russia suspended its participation in the Conventional Forces Treaty in Europe (CFE) that restricts the placement of heavy armour, in a row over NATO expansion into ex-Soviet states and U.S plans to base an antimissile system in Eastern Europe.

Moscow was ready to resume its treaty obligations under certain circumstances and had submitted new details to a CFE review group on May 5, Nesterenko said.

Russian officials have said they are willing to consider a German plan to review the CFE treaty in the coming months.

"A U.S.-Russian draft package solution, if significantly refined, could serve as a basis for breaking the deadlock," Nesterenko said.

On April 29, NATO's spokesman said he detected a new spirit of compromise to find a way to restore the treaty.

Nesterenko made clear Moscow was not yet satisfied and said the treaty did not yet impose the same clear obligations on NATO as on Russia. He did not elaborate.

Signed in 1990, the CFE obliges participants to limit the deployment of tanks and other heavy equipment from the Atlantic coast to the Ural mountains, but Moscow contends that it now unfairly penalises its forces following NATO expansion.

"It requires specific actions from Russia in exchange for quite vague promises on the part of the North Atlantic Alliance, the fulfilment of which is not guaranteed," Nesterenko said.

Russia's decision to suspend the CFE formed one element in the deterioration in relations with Western countries.

Since the election of U.S. President Barack Obama, both sides have said they want to press ahead on areas of mutual strategic interest such as fighting terrorism and agreeing a new nuclear arms control treaty.

The first full round of negotiations on replacing a separate nuclear arms control treaty between the United States and Russia will be held in Moscow next week.