Negotiators for NATO and the Warsaw Pact cleared a major hurdle in conventional arms reduction talks, agreeing on the definition of a tank and a proposed ceiling for armored combat vehicles.
The agreements, confirmed by U.S. officials at the Vienna talks, came less than two weeks after the Soviet delegation reversed itself and rejected what was essentially the same deal.Negotiators have now reached agreements in three of five categories of weapons that are the focus of the 23-nation Conference on Conventional Forces in Europe. NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact both say they want a formal treaty by the end of the year.
"This helps, but we still have a lot to do," a member of the U.S. delegation said. The official, who insisted on anonymity, said the two sides are still haggling over reductions in combat aircraft and helicopters.
The agreements on tanks and armored combat vehicles are the result of more than a year of negotiations.
NATO and the Warsaw Pact agreed in principle several months ago to a proposed ceiling of 20,000 tanks for each side, but differed on what types of vehicles should be classified as tanks.
Wednesday, the two sides reached an agreement on a definition for tanks and also set a limit of 30,000 each for other armored combat vehicles, including armored personnel carriers.
The breakthrough came when the Soviet side requested - and NATO accepted - minor changes in wording in a proposed accord that had already been fined-tuned to Soviet wishes, the U.S. official said.
"The movement came from the Soviet side today, but to be frank they are agreeing to their own proposal," he said.
NATO officials feared a slowdown in the talks when the Soviets introduced new technical obstacles to an agreement on tanks and armored vehicles during negotiations June 14.
The West had expected a quick resolution of remaining differences following the U.S.-Soviet summit last month, in which President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev indicated broad agreement on conventional forces cuts in Europe.
Before the summit, progress in the talks had been stalled because of Moscow's objections to integrating a united Germany into NATO's military command.