The row between the United States and Russia over the proposed stationing of bases for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe was once more addressed at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Netherlands but there was little progress in easing tensions.
Russia's Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters that proposals by the United States aimed at resolving the row had not allayed Moscow's concerns.
"All that has been proposed to us does not satisfy us, our position remains the same," the ITAR-TASS and Interfax news agency quoted Serdyukov as saying. He added however that Washington was "beginning to better understand our concerns."
"US missile defence proposals are unacceptable and do not suit Russia," Serdyukov said.
Serdyukov said Russia's objections concerned both missile defense and the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, a key arms pact from which Moscow has threatened to withdraw.
"In Russia's relations with NATO there are several issues on which we have not found common positions. This above all concerns the CFE treaty and missile defense," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.
US offer of Russian presence at missile site rejected
The comments came after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday outlined proposals to let "a Russian presence" monitor a missile defense radar facility that Washington hopes to build in the Czech Republic.
The radar is part of a proposed missile defense system that would also comprise a small number of interceptor missiles in Poland.
Washington insists that the proposed system is not directed against Russia but against "rogue states," notably Iran. But Russia has insisted the US plans threaten its security.
Serdyukov on Thursday added that the Russian threat to withdraw from the CFE treaty "is stimulating NATO countries to take a decision as soon as possible" on a Russian demand for ratification of an updated version of the treaty.
NATO chief warns Russia of withdrawing from CFE
Addressing reporters at the NATO meeting in Noordwijk, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said a Russian withdrawal from the CFE would be "deplorable".
"I sincerely hope it will not happen. NATO considers this treaty one of the cornerstones, if not the cornerstone, of European security," he said.
"The allies and I would deplore very much if the Russian Federation were to decide to suspend or leave the treaty," he added.
De Hoop Scheffer said Russia and the US were engaged in "constructive talks" and urged all parties involved not to close the door to negotiation.
"Please don't make irreversible moves, don't do irreversible steps. Give this process a chance," he said.
Scheffer added: "While process has now taken off, I would deplore if the Russian Federation would decide to suspend."
NATO countries have said they would only ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty once Moscow has lived up to a pledge made in 1999 to pull its troops out of former Soviet republics Georgia and Moldova.
NATO scrapes together fresh troops for Afghanistan
At the same meeting, NATO defense ministers however managed to scrape together fresh troops for Afghanistan despite reluctance on the part of countries such as Germany to deploy peacekeepers to the more volatile parts of the country.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has faced stiff resistance from Taliban-led insurgents in the south and east of Afghanistan and has called on its allies for help. Germany has often come under the spotlight for resisting moves, for which it would need parliamentary approval, to redeploy away from the relatively stable north of the country and play a greater combat role.
Officials declined to speak on the record about which countries
had made offers as those pledges must be confirmed at a so-called "force generation conference" in Belgium next month.
But news agency AFP quoted an alliance diplomat saying that nine nations had come forward. One senior official said that non-NATO nations Albania, Croatia and Georgia were among them, as well as member country Slovakia, the agency said.