World News

Russia open to talks on arms treaty after freeze

BERLIN (Reuters) - Russia is ready to hold new talks on the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty despite its decision to freeze compliance with the landmark arms pact, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a German newspaper.

“The moratorium does not close the door to further negotiations,” Lavrov wrote in a contribution to the Handelsblatt daily.

“We never stopped the dialogue and are ready to start it up again at any time and under any format. Our most important goal is to reach a quality agreement that increases the security of Europe and of all countries.”

The article was provided to Reuters before publication in the Tuesday edition of the newspaper.

Russia suspended its participation in the CFE treaty on Wednesday.

It says the treaty, designed to limit battlefield weapons, such as tanks and armored vehicles, on either side of the old Iron Curtain, is a Cold War relic which gives too much scope for an enlarged NATO to beef up its forces.

Western capitals regard the move as another sign of Russia’s assertive approach to foreign policy under President Vladimir Putin, but Lavrov appeared keen to tone down the rhetoric.

“The moratorium is a further appeal (for all countries) to take an objective look at the situation and take steps together to calm things down,” he wrote in Handelsblatt.

Russia’s biggest grievance with the CFE pact is the limit on deployments west of the Ural mountains, while armaments are not capped in new east European members of the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

Russia has watched NATO’s eastward expansion with unease. Its concern has heightened as Washington prepares to open bases in new alliance members Bulgaria and Romania and deploy parts of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Richard Balmforth