By Andreas Rinke
BERLIN (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it was sceptical about Germany's call for a new arms control deal with Russia to avoid an escalation of tensions in Europe, given Moscow's violation of a series of other agreements.
Daniel Baer, the U.S. envoy to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told Reuters that Washington favours continued dialogue with Russia to enhance transparency, but is wary of entering into any new agreements at this point.
"Our focus will remain on the existing agreements and trying to get them to function they way they ought to be functioning, and continuing to engage on the serious concerns about the issues at hand," Baer said in an interview with Reuters in Berlin ahead of an OSCE meeting in nearby Potsdam.
"In the context of a situation where Russia is violating a bunch of agreements that it's made before, one should approach the idea of any new agreement with some caution," he said.
Baer noted that Russia has suspended its participation in meetings of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) joint consultative group, and was not abiding by a 1992 open skies agreement or a 1990 Vienna agreement requiring information and mutual inspection of military facilities.
Baer's comments marked a setback for an initiative launched last week by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the rotating chairman of the OSCE this year, who is urging a new arms control deal with Moscow.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Sunday that he supported the German proposal.
Steinmeier argues that a new arms control process would offer a "proven means for transparency, risk avoidance and trust building" after Russia violated non-negotiable principles of peace by its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014.
Speaking ahead of the OSCE meeting in Potsdam on Thursday, Steinmeier told reporters that foreign ministers from 40 of the 57 OSCE member countries in Europe, Central Asia and North America would discuss his proposal as well as the Ukraine crisis, growing terrorist threats and other issues.
"We need intensive debates at a time when trust has obviously been lost between East and West, and between the West and Russia, especially, after the annexation of Crimea and in light of the conflict in eastern Ukraine," Steinmeier said.
Baer said it was critical to achieve a lasting ceasefire in eastern Ukraine's separatist conflict so that Moscow and Kiev could work toward holding free and fair local elections in the region, a pivotal part of the 2015 Minsk peace agreement.
He said Moscow was the "determining variable" in achieving the ceasefire, because only the Kremlin could give the order to withdraw pro-Russian separatist fighters and their equipment from eastern Ukraine.
(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Reuters TV; editing by Mark Heinrich)