The United States and the Soviet Union appear to be on the brink of a breakthrough on an agreement to limit conventional military forces in Europe.
Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze laid out the final pattern for agreement in a two-hour session Thursday, leaving some minor details to be worked out by technical teams.But a NATO diplomat said, "I can't imagine that any details over minor issues would stand in the way of approving such a major agreement."
The treaty would limit troops, aircraft, helicopters and armored vehicles based in Europe. The cuts would be at least 50 percent in each category.
Both men, after their meeting described "good progress" and said they were taking the results to their allies for approval.
Since the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact has virtually ceased to exist as a military alliance with the democratization of Eastern Europe, the results will be approved if NATO buys the bargain Baker and his team struck in New York.
The two were expected to meet at least one more time in New York to discuss strategic arms reductions, in addition to a Shevardnadze session with President Bush on Monday in New York.
The three remaining issues are:
- The percentage of forces Washington and Moscow would be permitted to make up in remaining East-West forces. The United States wanted that percentage to be around 30, while the Soviets pushed for between 35 and 40 percent. One U.S. official said there will be different percentages for different categories of weapons.
- How many units each side can station outside its own national territory. Officials reported essential agreement.
- Numbers of aircraft. The exact counting rules will have to be worked out by teams of technical experts, but Western officials said they believe the minor remaining differences will be bridged.
The round of Baker-Shevardnadze meetings this week was the 20th, an average of one per month in the Bush administration, not counting dozens of telephone calls between the two foreign ministers.
U.S. officials say both Baker and Shevardnadze are determined to send a signal to Iraq that Saddam Hussein's personal ambitions in invading Kuwait on Aug. 2 will not be allowed to destroy the dawning post-Cold War era.