VIENNA — The Western Alliance and Warsaw Pact negotiators agreed Saturday to launch new talks aimed at cutting conventional weapons in Europe from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains deep inside the Soviet Union.
Last-minute talks overcame a dispute between North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies Greece and Turkey on whether a tiny section of Turkey's Mediterranean coast should be included in the new arms negotiations expected to begin around March 9. Conferees said they would formally adopt the agreement today.
Agreement on the new arms talks cleared the way for conclusion of a major East-West agreement on security, economic and human rights issues worked out by the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and due to be signed by foreign ministers in Vienna this week.
In Washington, the State Department said Secretary of State George P. Shultz will fly to Vienna today. He was expected to join other foreign ministers in formally adopting the agreement.
It will be Shultz's last overseas trip as secretary state. He is to be succeeded by James A. Baker III when the Bush Administration takes office Friday.
A Fresh Start
The new talks will give the two military blocs a fresh start on conventional arms cuts following the failure of the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) negotiations after 15 years of effort, diplomats said.
One NATO delegate, who asked not to be identified, called the new talks an essential component in building on East-West progress already made in cutting nuclear weapons.
"You cannot deal with nuclear weapons in isolation, given the imbalance between East and West in the conventional field," the delegate said.
Western countries say that Warsaw Pact forces are much stronger in numbers and some equipment, and this imbalance must be reduced if more nuclear arms are to be negotiated away.
"We want on our side of the table to get a handle on those big, heavy, ready, forward-deployed Soviet armored units," said Stephen Ledogar, Washington's chief delegate to the talks.
Talks to Be Concluded
The MBFR talks, which covered a smaller area than the new negotiations and did not include France, will be concluded to make way for the new negotiations.
The new talks were linked to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in part to enable the French to participate. France, a member of NATO but not its military structure, opposes talks between military blocs.
Asked if he expects some early success at the new talks after the failure of the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction negotiations, Ledogar said: "I would hope so, because the statements of the East seem to be indicating that they are much more prepared now than they were in the heyday of the MBFR to come to grips with the real problem.
"We have heard many statements (from the East) about recognition that there is asymmetry in their favor, especially in main battle tanks and artillery, (and) recognition that they are ready to get down to serious negotiation."
Ledogar said no firm schedule had been agreed upon. But foreign ministers of the 23 Warsaw Pact and NATO states may attend a ceremonial opening in the week beginning March 6, allowing talks to get under way March 9.
The agreement is a product of hard bargaining between the two power blocs, yet it was almost jeopardized at the last moment by the dispute between Athens and Ankara.
Greece had objected to exclusion from the arms talks of a triangle of Turkish territory close to the Syrian border.
The territory includes the eastern Mediterranean port of Mersin, which Greece says is used to ship arms to northern Cyprus, controlled by Turkey.
Turkey had agreed with the Soviet Union to exclude the territory and feared that reopening the issue might prompt Moscow to reiterate earlier demands to include the nearby U.S. air base of Incirlik in the talks.
Ledogar said the territory is not strategically important in East-West terms.
The text of the new mandate left open whether the zone for the new talks would include or exclude Mersin.
With the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe rapidly approaching an end, a compromise was finally reached that left the question open.
The arms agreement must now be incorporated into the CSCE final document which is to be wrapped up this week by foreign ministers, including the Soviet Union's Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
But until Saturday's agreement there was a danger the ministers would have nothing to adopt. The CSCE final document includes major East Bloc concessions on human rights and also covers economic cooperation and military security.
The conference members reached provisional agreement on the document Friday after more than two years of talks. It underlines basic human rights such as freedom of religion, movement and information.