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The U.S. has rejected Russia’s offer to try to save a key nuclear treaty

The INF pact has kept Europe free of nuclear missiles for three decades.

by Tim Hume
Jan 17 2019, 3:13pm

The U.S. is threatening to pull out of a key longstanding nuclear treaty with Russia within weeks over a cruise missile system that’s believed to violate the agreement.

Russia had offered to allow American officials to inspect the 9M729 nuclear-capable cruise missile system at the heart of the dispute over the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which has helped keep peace in Europe for 30 years. But Washington says that won’t be enough, and insists Russia must destroy the system to remain compliant.

Following a fruitless meeting between the powers in Geneva on Wednesday, U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson said Washington intended to withdraw from the treaty on Feb. 2.

She said Russia’s offer to allow American officials to inspect the system was not enough to save the deal, as it wouldn’t verify the range of the warheads.

“We explained to our Russian counterparts specifically what they would need to do in order to return to compliance in a manner that we can confirm, verifiable destruction of the non-compliant system,” Thompson told reporters.

“To see the missile does not confirm the distance that missile can travel, and at the end of the day, that’s the violation of the treaty.”

The INF treaty, signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, was designed to lower the threat of nuclear war in Europe by eliminating their medium-range missile arsenals. It banned ground-launched missiles with a range between 500 kms and 5,500 kms, keeping Europe free of nuclear missiles for three decades since.

If the pact collapses, there will no longer be restrictions on deployment of medium-range missiles — a prospect that has caused particular alarm in Europe.

Washington says it considers Russia’s new missile in breach of the treaty. The Obama administration complained to Moscow about the system, but the U.S. did not threaten to pull out until Donald Trump announced his intention to leave, in October.

Thompson said if Moscow didn’t indicate its intention to comply by Feb. 2, the U.S. would stop observing the treaty — allowing American defense researchers to resume development of missiles within the proscribed range — and would formally give notice of its withdrawal, to take effect Aug. 2. She said there were no plans for further talks before the Feb. 2 deadline.

Russia insists it is fully compliant with the treaty and has accused Trump of using the issue as an excuse to pull out of the INF. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained that the U.S. had not given proper consideration to its offer and instead had “arrived with a prepared position that was based on an ultimatum … for us to destroy this rocket, its launchers, and all related equipment under U.S. supervision.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last month of a new arms race if the U.S. begins developing the intermediate-range missiles banned under the treaty, vowing that his military would respond in kind. The prospect of a renewed arms race in Europe has caused alarm across the continent, where there will no longer be restrictions on deployment of medium-range missiles if the pact collapses. The European Union has urged both sides to save the treaty, which foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini stressed had “guaranteed peace and security in European territory for 30 years.”

Cover: In this Tuesday, May 9, 2017 file photo, Russian Topol M intercontinental ballistic missile launcher rolls along Red Square during the Victory Day military parade to celebrate 72 years since the end of WWII and the defeat of Nazi Germany, in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)