The U.S. is planning to conduct tests soon on new missile technology that would have violated a treaty with Russia that expired Friday, senior administration officials said.
President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2018 after accusing Russia of developing and deploying a weapon that violated the pact. The U.S. formally suspended its participation in February, starting a six-month clock to end the pact.
The U.S. withdrawal is official as of Friday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said, adding in a statement that Russia had a long history of noncompliance and “is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise.” Russia’s violation of the INF accord poses “significant risks” to the security of states in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which “will respond in a measured and responsible way,” according to a NATO statement Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rejects the accusation, pulled his country out of the treaty last month in retaliation to the U.S. decision. Russia is ready with a response to the U.S. withdrawal, Vladimir Shamanov, head of the lower house of parliament’s defense committee, said Friday, the Interfax news service reported.
U.S. officials said the Kremlin has already fielded weapons in Western Russia capable of hitting targets anywhere in Western Europe, in violation of the treaty. They said Russia ignored multiple warnings that it was out of compliance.
The U.S., by comparison, is years away from having a deployable intermediate-range missile, and only plans to test a conventional weapon, not a nuclear one, the officials said.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters on Thursday after he was asked about the treaty’s expiration. “I will say, Russia would like to do something on a nuclear treaty, and that’s OK with me.”
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said in a statement Friday that Russia’s failure to comply with the INF Treaty “is unacceptable and merits a strong response,” but “blowing up the INF Treaty with no substitute arms control plan in place could open the door to a dangerous new era of unconstrained military competition with Russia.”
Kimball expressed concern that Washington and Moscow may let the “New START” treaty lapse when it expires in less than two years rather than renewing it. He said there would be “no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals” without that treaty,”which limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery systems.”
Trump called Putin on Wednesday but they didn’t discuss the INF treaty, he said. Instead, Trump said he offered U.S. help to fight wildfires raging in Siberia.
The administration officials said the U.S. has already undertaken permitted research into weapons that would violate the INF. The Cold War-era pact signed by the U.S. and the then Soviet Union led both sides to eliminate 2,692 short- and medium-range land-based missiles in their inventories by 1991, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The Trump administration says new or renewed nuclear arms control treaties should include China’s expanding arsenal as well as U.S. and Russian weapons, a prospect China already has rejected.
“Going forward, the United States calls upon Russia and China to join us in this opportunity to deliver real security results to our nations and the entire world,” Pompeo said in a statement on Friday.
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