NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Thursday said that the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) should be ratified, in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that his country is suspending obligations under the treaty.
"NATO allies attach great importance to the CFE treaty. They are of the opinion ... that it is important that the CFE treaty will be ratified," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters prior to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo.
The CFE treaty, which regulates the deployment of conventional military equipment for NATO member countries and those of the rival Warsaw Pact, has been signed by only four countries -- Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan so far, while most NATO countries have refused to ratify it, citing Russia's continued military presence in Georgia and Moldova as the reason.
The secretary general also said he expected further clarification of Putin's position by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they meet on Thursday afternoon.
In his state-of-the-nation address, Putin said his country is suspending obligations of the CFE treaty as NATO signatories to the treaty are not honoring their commitments. He indicated that Russia may ultimately withdraw from the treaty if its defense concerns are not properly addressed by NATO.
Moscow is vehemently opposed to U.S. plans to place an anti-ballistic missile shield and a radar system in Poland and the Czech Republic respectively, claiming the deployment is a threat to Russia's national security.
Russia is not buying Washington's explanation that the shield is designed to protect Europe from long-range missile attacks from "rogue states."
The planned deployment of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic is the third site other than the ones located in Alaska and California.
The Russians also fear that Washington may increase the number of interceptors.
De Hoop Scheffer said that NATO should be fully transparent about its missile defense plans with Russia as Moscow is a partner of the alliance.
He said the alliance is seeking political guidance from the foreign ministers on how to move forward.
NATO completed a missile defense feasibility study last year, which focused on technical aspects only. The NATO heads of state and government at their summit in Riga, Latvia, last November instructed the allies to debate the political desirability of the project.
The U.S. plan to deploy a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe is changing the course of the discussions. Washington is trying to persuade its European allies that its deployment will be able to cover most of Europe. Therefore NATO does not need to develop a separate system of its own.
Last week, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency head Henry Obering presented Washington's ideas of a missile defense system to officials in Brussels in order to rally support for the plan.
NATO Assistant Secretary General Martin Erdmann told reporters on Tuesday that the alliance is at the beginning of discussions and there is no consensus on the issue yet.
De Hoop Scheffer on Thursday emphasized that the U.S. deployment in Europe will leave several countries unprotected.
"If we talk about protection against a missile threat, the same should apply for everybody," he told reporters.