Fri. 8:38 a.m.: US poised to announce withdrawal from nuclear arms treaty

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is poised to announce today that it is withdrawing from a treaty that has been a centerpiece of superpower arms control since the Cold War and whose demise some analysts worry could fuel a new arms race.

An American withdrawal, which has been expected for months, would follow years of unresolved dispute over Russian compliance with the pact, known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty. It was the first arms control measure to ban an entire class of weapons: ground-launched cruise missiles with a range between 310 miles and 3,400 miles. Russia denies that it has been in violation.

U.S. officials also have expressed worry that China, which is not party to the 1987 treaty, is gaining a significant military advantage in Asia by deploying large numbers of missiles with ranges beyond the treaty’s limit. Leaving the INF treaty would allow the Trump administration to counter the Chinese, but it’s unclear how it would do that.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in early December that Washington would give Moscow 60 days to return to compliance before it gave formal notice of withdrawal, with actual withdrawal taking place six months later. The 60-day deadline expires on Saturday, and the administration is expected to say as early as today that efforts to work out a compliance deal have failed and that it would suspend its compliance with the treaty’s terms.

The State Department said Pompeo would make a public statement this morning, but it did not mention the topic.

During remarks made at a news conference in Bucharest, Secretary General Stoltenberg, said there are no signs of getting a compliance deal with Russia.

“So we must prepare for a world without the INF Treaty,” he said.

Technically, a U.S. withdrawal would take effect six months after this week’s notification, leaving a small window for saving the treaty. However, in talks this week in Beijing, the U.S. and Russia reported no breakthrough in their dispute, leaving little reason to think either side would change its stance on whether a Russian cruise missile violates the pact.

A Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, was quoted by the Russian state news agency Tass as saying after the Beijing talks Thursday, “Unfortunately, there is no progress. The position of the American side is very tough and like an ultimatum.” He said he expects Washington now to suspend its obligations under the treaty, although he added that Moscow remains ready to “search for solutions” that could keep the treaty in force.

U.S. withdrawal raises the prospect of further deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations, which already are arguably at the lowest point in decades, and debate among U.S. allies in Europe over whether Russia’s alleged violations warrant a countermeasure such as deployment of an equivalent American missile in Europe. The U.S. has no nuclear-capable missiles based in Europe; the last of that type and range were withdrawn in line with the INF treaty.

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