U.S. Plans to Withdraw From Nuclear Arms Treaty With Russia, Source Says

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump will suspend U.S. obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a 1987 pact with the former Soviet Union that became a pillar of international arms control, as it prepares to pull out entirely, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday night.

The Pentagon sent a notification to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the administration planned, under terms of the treaty, to withdraw in six months, according to one of the people. Both people requested anonymity to discuss the shift in policy.

U.S. Plans to Withdraw From Nuclear Arms Treaty With Russia, Source Says

The notification came before a Saturday deadline for Russia to destroy all of its ground-launched cruise missiles known as 9M729s, associated equipment and launchers. The suspension represents another flashpoint in U.S.-Russia relations and another repudiation by Trump and his aides of international agreements.

While Europeans and many U.S. lawmakers had hoped to preserve the treaty to stem proliferation of ground-launched, intermediate-range nuclear missiles, the Trump administration argued that Russia has been in violation for years anyway.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton has called the treaty outdated and one that doesn’t address the rising threat from China, which isn’t a signatory.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had warned nations to prepare for the treaty’s likely collapse.

U.S. Plans to Withdraw From Nuclear Arms Treaty With Russia, Source Says

The U.S. argues that Russia has jeopardized the INF treaty for years by deploying ground-launched missiles that fall within the banned range of 500 kilometers (311 miles) to 5,500 kilometers. Russia has denied violating the INF treaty, accused the U.S. of violations, and said withdrawal from the Cold War accord would trigger an arms race.

“On February 2, the U.S. will stop fulfilling its obligations under the treaty,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with state TV broadcast on Friday. “This is a serious step.” Russia is now waiting to see whether Washington will “inform us they are actually withdrawing” from the INF, he added.

Trump has been threatening to suspend the treaty for months, although American officials had left open whether the U.S. would simultaneously announce a full withdrawal, triggering a process that would take six months to complete.

Trump indicated in October that he wanted to pull out, but after consulting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other allies decided to delay the suspension. Pompeo said in early December that the U.S. was giving Russia two more months to get back in compliance with the treaty.

“Without the INF treaty, there will be less security,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters on Friday in Bucharest. “But we have to take note that the INF treaty is being violated by the Russian side.”

In the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, and other Democratic senators have drafted a measure that seeks to put new restrictions on the types of weapons the INF was designed to control. 

“Blowing up the treaty risks the proliferation of nuclear-capable systems by Russia, threatening Europe and jeopardizing decades of bipartisan efforts to reduce nuclear dangers with Russia,” he said in a statement on Thursday

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