The U.S. will withdraw from a key nuclear missile treaty with Russia as soon as this weekend, a U.S. official said Thursday, freeing up both countries to press ahead with the development of new weapons of mass destruction.
Washington gave Moscow a 60-day deadline in December to come back into compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of the Cold War.
The U.S. claimed the pact, which bans both sides from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe, was broken by the development of a new Russian missile, the Novator 9M729, called the SSC-8 by NATO.
Despite the Feb. 2 deadline, there is little expectation among officials that Russia will admit to any wrongdoing.
“The Russians still aren’t in acknowledgment that they are in violation of the treaty,” U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Andrea Thompson told Reuters, adding that a slim chance of saving the treaty remains as “diplomacy is never done.”
Thompson had been holding last-ditch talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Beijing.
The U.S. official said that an announcement to formally withdraw from the treaty would come as soon as this weekend, adding that it would allow the U.S. to develop its own longer-range missiles.
“We are then also able to conduct the R&D and work on the systems we haven’t been able to use because we’ve been in compliance with the treaty,” said Thompson. “Come February 2, this weekend, if [the Department of Defense] chooses to do that, they’ll be able to do that.”
Donald Trump first signaled the administration’s intent to pull out of the treaty in October.
"Russia has violated the agreement. They've been violating it for many years,” Trump said. “And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to.”
Russia has denied the U.S. allegations, saying the range of its new missile puts it outside of the scope of the treaty. The Kremlin added that it believes Washington is purposely blowing up the pact so it can develop new weapons of its own.
“I conclude that the United States was not expecting any decision and all this was a game made to cover their domestic decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty,” Ryabkov told the Sputnik news agency.
Cover image: The 9M729 missile demonstrated after a briefing for military attaches and international media by the Russian Defense Ministry at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre in Kubinka, Moscow Region, on the 9M729 missile system. (Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)