Republicans press Trump to get tough with Russia on nuclear talks amid Ukraine crisis

Nearly half of the Senate Republican conference is pressing President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE to adopt a tough stance on nuclear arms control with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of Russian aggression against Ukrainian naval forces on the Sea of Azov. 

Trump announced Thursday that he would cancel a scheduled meeting with Putin at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after Russian forces captured three Ukrainian naval ships during a territorial dispute. 

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“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

The two leaders were expected to discuss nuclear arms control on the sidelines of the summit. 

Putin has expressed interest in extending the Obama-era New START nuclear treaty, which Congress ratified in 2010, but Trump has panned as a bad deal for the United States. 

The treaty expires in 2021. 

Earlier on Thursday, 25 Republican senators sent a letter to Trump urging him to insist on modernization of the U.S. arsenal and better compliance by Russia with the arms control accord. 

“The value of the Treaty depends on a sustained and vigorous U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program, strict compliance by Russia with its arms control obligations, and a true balance of nuclear capabilities between the parties to the Treaty,” they wrote.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) led the letter, which was signed by 24 other Republicans, including Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown 'Morning Joe' host quizzes Howard Schultz on price of a box of Cheerios Huawei charges escalate Trump fight with China MORE (Ark.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzEl Chapo's lawyer fires back at Cruz: 'Ludicrous' to suggest drug lord will pay for wall Democrats have a chance of beating Trump with Julian Castro on the 2020 ticket Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again MORE (Texas), John CornynJohn CornynOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (Texas), Roy BluntRoy Dean Blunt‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration The border deal: What made it in, what got left out MORE (Mo.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio in Colombia to push for delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (Fla.). 

The senators wrote that U.S. maintenance and modernization of its nuclear weapons stockpile has fallen behind what was promised to Congress when it ratified New START in a lame-duck session eight year ago. 

They argue that continued funding for modernization programs such as the development of low-yield warhead options are necessary “in the face of dangerous international security developments since the New START was ratified.”

The lawmakers assert that Russia is “in material breach of its arms control commitments” such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty because of its deployment of ground-launched cruise missiles. 

They also faulted Russia for not addressing the disparity in tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles between the two countries and instead increasing “the role of nuclear forces and their types and variety since 2010.”

Trump last month threatened to pull out of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty after charging that Russia “violated the agreement.” 

“We’ll have to develop those weapons,” he told reporters at a campaign event in Nevada. “We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out.”

Trump’s tough stance on arms-control agreements with Russia has strong support in the Senate GOP conference. 

“We know you agree that arms control is not an end to itself; it is but a single tool that may be used to advance U.S. national security when carefully considered,” the 25 senators wrote. “We look forward to continuing to work with you throughout the review process.”