Top officials from the European Union and NATO look for unity on Russian proposals for a new security treaty in Europe. While the NATO chief was critical of Moscow, France's Sarkozy said Russia posed no military threat.
Europe has mixed opinions on a new security deal with Russia
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's call for a new treaty in Europe "deserves to be taken seriously" and Europe and the United States "should engage in this discussion," EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana told the prestigious Munich Security Conference.
But the secretary general of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, whose organization will be crucial to any new security arrangement, ruled out such a discussion as long as Russia plans to build military bases in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"I cannot see how we can have such a discussion of the new architecture ... when Russia is building bases inside Georgia. That cannot be ignored, and it cannot be the foundation of a new security architecture," De Hoop Scheffer told some 350 top world politicians.
Scheffer said the Russia-Georgia conflict was a reason not to start security talks
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that Medvedev's proposal was worth considering. "Russia today does not constitute a military threat to the European Union and NATO," he said, adding that Moscow had "too many internal challenges" to contemplate military aggression.
Opposition to spheres of influence
Any deal would have to uphold the role of the US in European security and the freedom of European states to choose their allies, and ban the idea of "spheres of influence" in Europe, Solana said.
The treaty should not give any country the right to stop another state joining NATO, De Hoop Scheffer agreed.
Medvedev launched the call for an international treaty aimed at outlawing the use of force "from Vancouver to Vladivostok" last June. His proposal came as tensions between Moscow and Washington were rising over plans by then-US president George W. Bush to site elements of a US missile-defense system in Central Europe and to enlarge NATO to bring in Georgia and Ukraine.
Medvedev's call had received a mixed response in Europe, which hardened in the wake of Russia's August war with Georgia over the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia ready to reduce nuclear arms
On the sidelines of the Munich conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday said that Russia was prepared to further reduce its nuclear missile arsenal and to engage in talks with the US on replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires at the end of the this year.
The so-called START was a landmark Cold War-era disarmament pact between the US and the then-Soviet Union and Moscow has long sought talks on its replacement.
While the previous US administration had been slow to address the issue, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised before her appointment to quickly begin negotiations on START.
Lack of trust between Russia, West
Solana said that the key problem in the relationship between Russia and the West was a lack of trust, which should be addressed by creating a "climate of cooperation."
"Cooperation between the EU, the US and Russia on some of most difficult issues has been very positive: Iran, the Middle East, non-proliferation, terrorism... I hope that will continue and be expanded to the financial crisis and climate change," he said.