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U.S. Begins Process To Withdraw From INF Treaty

Feb 1, 2019
Originally published on February 1, 2019 5:41 pm
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The Trump administration has made it official. It is pulling out of a landmark nuclear arms deal that dates back to the Cold War. The reason, they say, is that Russia was cheating. Russia denies that. But administration officials insist they've given the Russians plenty of time to salvage it. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: It was 1987 when President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, banning an entire class of weapons. That agreement has been a key to security in Europe. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Russia has been violating it for years now, putting European allies and U.S. forces there at greater risk.

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MIKE POMPEO: It aims to put the United States at a military disadvantage. And it undercuts the chances of moving our bilateral relationship in a better direction.

KELEMEN: He says he given Russia many chances to, quote, "mend its ways." It now has one last opportunity, since it takes six months for the U.S. to formally withdraw from the INF Treaty.

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POMPEO: If Russia does not return to full and verifiable compliance with the treaty within this six-month period by verifiably destroying its INF-violating missiles, their launchers and associated equipment, the treaty will terminate.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials are not optimistic about the prospects of a last-ditch deal. Russia continues to deny that its missile system violates the treaty. And the U.S. has been raising this for six years, starting with the Obama administration. Tom Countryman was a top nonproliferation expert at the State Department.

TOM COUNTRYMAN: We went an extra mile and an extra mile in terms of raising this with the Russians over a period of many years. But I still believe that there is even an 11th-hour possibility to save the treaty.

KELEMEN: Germany and other European allies are expressing similar hopes. Countryman, now chairman of the board of the Arms Control Association, says the Russian missile threatens European territory.

COUNTRYMAN: And it creates a situation that's analogous to what we saw in the late '70s and early '80s, when Russian deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles caused the U.S. and NATO to respond in kind.

KELEMEN: The INF Treaty, he says, marked an end to those Cold War tensions. He's also worried about the fate of a U.S.-Russian agreement on strategic weapons that expires in 2021.

COUNTRYMAN: If that is allowed to die in the next two years, then there will be, for the first time in more than 40 years, no limits whatsoever on the buildup of nuclear weapons by the two sides.

KELEMEN: Trump administration officials say Russia would be to blame for any new arms race and the U.S. is still, quote, "some time away" from deciding whether to deploy any new weapons systems. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.