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U.S. pushes for peace force in Moldova

BRUSSELS: The United States is sounding out European allies and Russia on the formation of a peacekeeping force in Moldova in an effort to resolve a dispute with Moscow that threatens a key arms control treaty, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

A multinational force could replace Russian troops based in Moldova's separatist Transnistria region in defiance of the Moldovan government, said Paula DeSutter, the State Department's top official overseeing the implementation of international arms agreements.

"The U.S. is considering and discussing with our NATO allies options where we can propose to Russia an alternative peacekeeping force for Transnistria, one that is genuinely multilateral, with Russian participation," DeSutter told reporters during a visit to Brussels for talks with European Union and NATO officials.The question of Russia's troops in Moldova has long marred Moscow's relations with the West. It is the main reason the United States and other NATO nations have delayed ratifying a 1999 version of the Cold War-era treaty governing the deployment of nonnuclear arms in Europe.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia in April announced a moratorium on observance of the treaty and threatened to withdraw altogether if the United States and other NATO members did not ratify it soon.

Moscow has called a conference among treaty signatories in Vienna next week.

Putin's treaty threat cranked up tensions between Russia and the West that are already running high over a raft of issues, headed by U.S. plans to extend antimissile defenses to Europe.

DeSutter suggested a solution to the Moldova dispute could clear the way for ratification of the treaty by NATO allies, a move that could improve relations with Moscow.

NATO and EU officials gave a cautious response to DeSutter's suggestion for an international force, saying Russia had previously resisted such ideas. However, they expressed hope that progress could be made during a visit to Russia next week by President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova.

Transnistria, a mostly Russian-speaking region along Moldova's border with Ukraine, broke away in 1992, shortly after Moldova's independence from the Soviet Union. A separatist war left more than 1,000 people dead. No country recognizes the separatist region's independence, but Russia maintains about 1,500 troops there, which the Moldovan government says support the separatists.

"Even if you call them peacekeepers you can't have stationed forces on someone else's territory without their consent and that for us is a critical principle," DeSutter said. "Let's multilateralize the peacekeeping force, with Russian participation."

She said U.S. and European troops could perhaps participate in such a force alongside Russian soldiers.

The Associated Press

Source: International Herald Tribune


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