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Russia will not raise the issue of its withdrawal from CFE Treaty at a conference in Vienna in mid-June
Russia will not raise the issue of its withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty at a conference in Vienna in mid-June, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday. Russia, concerned over Europe's refusal to ratify the re-drafted version of the arms control treaty, and the acceptance by certain European Union states of U.S. missile shield plans on the continent, has proposed holding an emergency CFE conference in Vienna June 12-15. "This conference was designed as a forum to set out our concerns [in the arms control sphere]," Lavrov told a news conference after his trip to South Korea. The minister reiterated that Russia could not accept "artificial links" between the observance of the treaty and the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Georgia or units guarding former Soviet ammunition stockpiles in Moldova. "These attempts [to link the issues] do not have any legal grounds, and those who insist on these preconditions have already told us that it is not a legal matter, but rather a political one," Lavrov said. President Vladimir Putin earlier said Russia could withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, arguing that the pact had not been ratified by any NATO member states. NATO members have demanded that Russia first withdraw from Soviet-era bases in Georgia and Moldova under previous agreements. NATO's Moscow office has condemned the Kremlin's threat to impose a unilateral moratorium on an arms reduction treaty between the Western security alliance and former Eastern Bloc countries, warning of serious consequences. In its report circulated Tuesday, the NATO office said that if Russia were to suspend its commitments under the treaty, this would be a direct violation of the document, and warned that as Russia has the greatest military power in Europe, its non-participation in the treaty would lead to serious consequences. 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. Lavrov also said Russia expected the United States to discuss its plans to deploy elements of its missile shield in Europe at the Vienna conference. "When we are told that it [the missile shield] is not against us, but against Iran and North Korea, we are ready to sit at the negotiating table and discuss professionally, without propaganda...at military expert level...the possibility of this threat," the minister said. Russia has responded angrily to U.S. plans, announced in January, to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic to counter possible missiles attacks from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. But Lavrov dismissed allegations that Russia used "cold war rhetoric" in discussions over the U.S. missile shield plans. "When facilities aimed at neutralizing our potential are being placed next to our borders, any military planner must take measures to eliminate this threat," he said. "If our analysis is correct, the U.S. decision to deploy a missile shield where they are planning to place it [in Europe] is absolutely in line with the "cold war mentality," Lavrov said. Russia earlier said U.S. missile bases in Europe could become targets of its pinpoint strikes and already tested last week a new ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads and a new cruise missile, saying the tests were part of Moscow's response to the U.S. anti-missile plans.
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