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Russia calls for emergency conference on key Soviet-era arms control treaty

Russia called for an emergency conference next month on a key Soviet-era arms control treaty that has been a source of increasing friction in relations between Moscow and the NATO alliance.

The call for a conference on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, or CFE, follows last month's statement from President Vladimir Putin in which he declared a moratorium on observing Russia's obligations under the treaty. Putin warned that Russia could dump the treaty altogether if Western nations continue to refuse to ratify its amended version, and said negotiations should be held.

The Foreign Ministry said Monday that it lodged a formal request for a conference among treaty signatories in Vienna, Austria, on June 12-15.

The treaty, which limits the number of aircraft, tanks and other non-nuclear heavy weapons around Europe, was first signed in 1990 and then amended in 1999 to reflect changes since the Soviet breakup. Russia has ratified the amended version, but the United States and other NATO members have refused to do so until Moscow withdraws troops from the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia an issue Moscow says is unrelated.

Russian officials have said that NATO's eastward expansion to include former Soviet republics and satellites have made the original version of the treaty irrelevant and harmful to Russia's interests.

The Foreign Ministry said it was calling for the emergency conference in connection with "serious problems related to the observance of the treaty by NATO nations as a result of the alliance's expansion and their foot-dragging on the ratification of the 1999 agreement to amend the CFE."

The ministry said that as any signatory of the treaty Russia has the right to call an emergency conference. The ministry said it asked the Netherlands, the treaty's depositary, to organize the conference.

The ministry voiced hope that the West will show the "political will to search for mutually acceptable solutions that would allow to end the current crisis of the CFE."

Russia's relations with the West have become strained over Western criticism of Russia's rights and democracy record and Russia's opposition to U.S. plans to deploy elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet satellite states that are now NATO members.