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NATO Aghast at Russian Arms Treaty Roadblock
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NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer Thursday said that the alliance strongly disapproved of Russia's suspension of its obligations towards the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.

In a meeting with NATO foreign ministers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed President Vladimir Putin's statement earlier Thursday that Moscow was ruling out abiding by the CFE treaty until it is ratified by all NATO countries.

"That message was met by great concern, disappointment and regret because the allies are of the opinion that the CFE treaty is one of the cornerstones of European security," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after the NATO-Russia meeting.

He asked Russia to stand by the so-called "Istanbul obligations" -- withdrawal of Russian military bases from Moldova and Georgia -- before NATO members ratify the treaty.

The CFE first came into vigor in 1992, before being reworked in 1999. However, to date, only Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, have ratified it.

De Hoop Scheffer said the allies would ratify the treaty in days, not weeks, should Russia pull out of Moldova and Georgia.

Russia has said that no legal tie exists between the Istanbul obligations and ratifying the treaty, a viewpoint NATO disagrees, said de Hoop Scheffer.

The CFE issue dominated Thursday's NATO-Russia Council meeting, said a NATO official, who would not be named. Due to this, Kosovo was not even touched upon despite being a focal point of souring relations between the alliance and Moscow.

The two sides also discussed the controversial US plan to deploy missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, a tense issue which de Hoop Scheffer described the sides as not seeing eye-to-eye on.

The Russians do not accept NATO's explanation that it is not being targeted by the system. However, he dismissed any link between the CFE issue and missile defense disagreements, saying these two subjects stood separate.

Lavrov told a separate press conference that the US deployment of strategic components in Russia's doorstep is not justifiable. Moscow cannot see any threats facing Europe which warrant such a system. He revealed that Russia wished for a joint threat assessment with NATO to guide future moves.

(Xinhua News Agency April 27, 2007)

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