State Dept: US likely to pull out of Cold War-era arms treaty as deadline looms

State Dept: US likely to pull out of Cold War-era arms treaty as deadline looms

A top State Department official indicated Thursday that the Trump administration does not expect Russia to meet a deadline to destroy a disputed missile, adding the U.S. will pull out of a key Cold War-era treaty if Moscow fails to meet the deadline.

Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, told reporters that she’s “not particularly optimistic” that Russia will comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

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The U.S. has demanded that Russia destroy a disputed missile by Feb. 2 in order to remain in compliance with the pact, which bans all land-based missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,106 miles. The treaty was signed between Moscow and Washington in 1987.

Thompson said Thursday that the Trump administration will “suspend our obligations” under the treaty should Russia not return to compliance by the end of next week.

President Trump said in October that the U.S. would withdraw from the treaty after his administration accused Russia of violating the deal.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoState Department watchdog probing whether Trump aides took gifts meant for foreign officials Biden shows little progress with Abraham Accords on first anniversary Biden slips further back to failed China policies MORE then announced in December that the U.S. would give Russia 60 days to come back into compliance, but said that if Moscow did not, Washington would begin the six-month process of fully withdrawing.

Thompson, who last week returned from talks between the two nations in Geneva, said there has been no final decision on whether Washington intends to fully pull out. She noted that if the U.S. did, the suspension is “reversible” within the six months.

The State Department official said talks between her group and the Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov were “professional,” but “didn’t break any new ground.”

“It wasn’t the normal bluster, propaganda, the kind of dramatics that associate some of these meetings,” Thompson said. “But ... there was no new information. The Russians acknowledged having the system but continued to say in their talking points it didn’t violate the INF treaty despite showing them, repeated times, the intelligence and information” the U.S. had collected. 

The administration’s move is based on Russia’s Novator 9M729 missile system, which Moscow has said does not violate the treaty as it can only travel just under 300 miles, within INF limits. 

To alleviate U.S. concerns, Russia had said it would allow U.S. officials to inspect the 9M729. But Thompson said that would be similar to figuring out how fast a car can go without being able to drive it.

“Arms control works when you can fully verify the compliance with it. The transparency measures they brought to the table wouldn’t have done so,” she said.

Thompson said the United States, in turn, has shown Russian officials “time, after time, after time” its data that proves the missile flew beyond 3,106 miles in a test held between 2008 and 2013.

“We have shared that with our partners and allies. ... We continue to provide them with that information. They continue to deny it. Maybe the 50th time will be the charm,” she said. 

U.S. officials have said Russia must agree by Feb. 2 to destroy the system, or the United States would stop observing the treaty and move forward on developing its own missiles that could fly beyond 310 miles. 

“The only way you can get the system back into compliance is to destroy the missile. There’s no way to alter it, there’s no way to change it, there’s no way to adjust the fuel cycle, and we’ve laid that out to them repeated times," Thompson said.

The United States has also offered to hold arm control talks with Russia during a United Nations meeting in Beijing next week, but Thompson said she does not expect much from such a discussion.

“I’ve told the deputy foreign minister if and when it’s appropriate and they have tangible next steps, that I’m willing to talk,” she said. “But to come to the table and hear the same story line from the past five years isn’t a productive use of our time.”