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12 Oct, 2007 08:20

Russia says it may quit nuclear arms treaty

The Russian President has warned the U.S. that Moscow may pull out of a treaty on intermediate- range nuclear missiles (INF) if it is not expanded to impose arms restrictions on other countries. He issued the warning at a meeting with the U.S. Secretaries.

2+2 talks over missile shield in Europe
Last chance to find common ground

According to Vladimir Putin, others must join the treaty in order for Russia and the U.S. to fulfill their obligations on elimination of medium and short range missiles.

“We need to convince other members of the international community to take on the same obligations as Russia and the United States. If we fail to achieve this, it will be difficult for us to stay within the INF treaty, as other countries – including states in close proximity to Russia's borders – are actively developing such arms systems,” Vladimir Putin said during his meeting with Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates on Friday.

The INF treaty was signed in 1987 by the then Soviet and American leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. Under the terms of the treaty, the two countries were obligated to reduce their medium and short-range missiles.

Russian officials have said in the past they may review the treaty because of concerns about growing arsenals in countries on its eastern and southern flanks, including Iran, India and Pakistan.

2+2 talks over missile shield in Europe

Dr Rice and Mr Gates are currently in Moscow to try to ease Russian concerns over a controversial missile defence shield in Europe.  Addressing the issue, Mr Putin has asked the U.S. not to rush the missile shield plan.

Dr Rice and Mr Gates are also taking part in a so-called '2+2' meeting with their Russian counterparts, Sergey Lavrov and Anatoly Serdyukov.

Moscow opposes U.S. plans to deploy the missile shield, saying it poses a threat to Russia's security.  Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov will be making the point forcibly to their U.S. counterparts. The American proposal involves placing interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.

The U.S. claims the system will protect Europe from possible threats from Iran and North Korea.  Moscow says such threats are implausible, but has offered the U.S. joint use of a Russian-operated early-warning radar in Azerbaijan instead.

“Moscow's proposal was to include Russian radar deployed not far from Iran border and to make it part of the new missile-defence system. Unfortunately, the U.S. rejected this proposal and agreed only to use it as one part of the system.  Actually, to my view, the question is not about Russia taking part in the system. The question is much more valuable and important: who will control, who will be able to switch on or to switch off the system in general. So, Russia wants to play a key role in the system,” said Vadim Kozyulin, a military analyst and the Director of the Conventional Arms Programme in Russia's Centre for Policy Studies.

Although the U.S. decision is welcomed by Polish and Czech officials, most of the people there are against the idea.

The plan doesn’t have unanimous support in Europe either, where there are fears it might antagonise Russia.  

So far, neither side has given ground on the issue, and few expect a breakthrough in the latest talks.  

“I don't expect much from this round. The best way would be if the discussion concentrates on Russian proposals, because so far we have an American decision, a Russian objection, but  also a positive step are Russian proposals,” says Vladimir Orlov, from Political Studies Centre.  

While the U.S. hasn't rejected President Putin's offer for joint-use of the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan, Washington has made it clear they don’t consider the offer as a substitute for their missile plan.

Last chance to find common ground

Today the sides seem no closer to the resolution, but they are not giving up.

“The consultations held in preparation for the ministers’ meeting demonstrated that we have solid arguments for taking this approach. The American side promised that by the time we meet in the two-plus-two format, they will have a definite response to our proposals ready. We hope that the decision they make will help us strengthen strategic stability rather than create new risks,” Russia’s Foreign Minister, Lavrov noted.

Vladimir Orlov says there'll be some tough talking on the two-day visit.

“Diplomacy and military issues should be put together. There are not only military solutions. And, unfortunately, there are not only diplomatic solutions because military technologies are involved. As Americans have their own explanation of the reasons for the missile defence, Russians have their counter-arguments – very strong ones”, he said.      

Many analysts say the Moscow talks give both sides a last chance to find common ground on missile defence before their respective countries are plunged in election campaigns.

“It only happened once before now that they met in this particular structure. So, I think it is a real sign that Washington is quite concerned about the U.S.-Russian relationship. There has been a very negative feeling between our two capitals, so it is very important from Washington’s perspective to have a high-level meeting and to try to get the relationship back on track,” says Rose Gottemoeller, the Director of Carnegie Moscow Centre.