The United States is prepared to offer concessions to Russia over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty to try to persuade Moscow to soften its positions on Kosovo and Iran, diplomats said Monday.
The concessions are part of a complex package Washington is pursuing as it tries to overcome Russian opposition to independence for the Serbian province of Kosovo and to gain support for new sanctions against Tehran that the Bush administration announced last week.
With time running out for a deal on Kosovo - the deadline for an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians expires on Dec. 10 - and with the United States trying to win support for further sanctions against Iran, the administration is pressing to bring Russia on board.
Haunting the United States and the Europeans is Russia's threat to withdraw from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which has been considered a cornerstone of European security since the end of the Cold War. President Vladimir Putin made the threat in response to U.S. plans to deploy an antimissile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic that Washington says would protect against attacks from Iran.
"The Baltic states and the countries of Eastern Europe are desperately afraid of the U.S. trying to do a grand bargain with Putin," said Tomas Valesek, director of foreign policy and defense issues at the Center for European Reform in London.
"These countries fear that once you go down this road, Putin's appetite will become even bigger," Valesek said. "He could use such deals to carve out his own spheres of influence, for instance in Georgia and Moldova. Any idea of a grand bargain is a terrible idea for them."
And a senior NATO diplomat who requested anonymity said: "The U.S. is desperately finding incentives so as to win Russian support for Kosovo and Iran, but also in a way that would save the conventional arms treaty. The question is whether Russia but also some of the smaller NATO countries will buy into the compromise."
The Bush administration suggested to Russia two weeks ago that it could cooperate in the missile shield and that a similar Russian system in Azerbaijan could be linked to the U.S. project. Putin turned down the offer.
If Moscow refuses to yield on Kosovo, the United States and most European Union countries might recognize its independence anyway. That move could further destabilize the Balkans, worsen relations with Moscow and lead to a Chinese-Russian veto in the United Nations Security Council to block new sanctions on Iran, diplomats said.
Putin has threatened to pull out of the treaty on Dec. 12 unless the treaty's 56 signatories ratify amendments that were negotiated in 1999. The 56 include the United States, Canada and countries across Europe and Central Asia that belong to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which negotiated the treaty.
The treaty, which took effect in 1992, has four main elements. Conventional land forces are limited in number and location; countries must notify each other when they carry out special exercises or troop movements; troop and equipment reductions are subject to verification; and the number of troops and amount of equipment a country can deploy on the "flanks" of its territory are restricted to reduce the possibility of launching a surprise attack.
Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European affairs, told NATO ambassadors this month that the Bush administration "had put some new ideas on the table" when Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Moscow two weeks ago.
Fried said the ideas involved breaking "the impasse which has blocked ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty" but he would not give details. "The Russians had acknowledged that these were quite interesting and they said they wanted to work from them," Fried said. "We hope for some intensive diplomacy and movement before Dec. 12th."
Zygimantas Pavilionis, under secretary of state at the Latvian Foreign Ministry, said: "It is of course very important that we have this dialogue with Russia on the treaty. But with all respect to the dialogue, it would be good if our American friends and the EU as a bloc would pay a bit more attention to what is happening in Russia's neighborhood in the coming months. Global issues that dominate the agenda could be a distraction for real Russian interests in its neighborhood."
The Estonian Foreign Ministry said Monday that it would join the adapted treaty only "after it has been ratified by all signatories and then it becomes open to new members." ( IHT )