Pentagon chief says US looking to put intermediate-range missiles in Asia

Pentagon chief says US looking to put intermediate-range missiles in Asia
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SYDNEY — Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan Japan's Hormuz dilemma Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces MORE said Saturday that he hoped to soon place ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia, a day after the United States pulled itself from a Cold War-era arms control pact.

“Yes, I would like to,” Esper told reporters traveling with him to Sydney when asked whether he was considering deploying such missiles in Asia.

“I would prefer months. I just don’t have the latest state of play on timelines for either a cruise missile or long-range missile ... but these things tend to take longer than you expect.”

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He also said such a missile would be “important” to have in the Asia-Pacific region but could not speculate on where it would be placed, as discussions with allies would need to take place, among other factors.

Esper brushed aside a likely tense reaction from China to such a U.S. deployment, saying that more than 80 percent of Beijing’s inventory “is intermediate range systems, so that shouldn’t surprise them that we would want to have a like capability.”

The United States on Friday formally left the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia. The U.S. has blamed Moscow for violating the treaty for years, going back to the Obama administration, claims Russia denies.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoLatest pro-democracy rally draws tens of thousands in Hong Kong 63 killed in blast at Afghan wedding as Taliban, US negotiate troop withdrawal Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE said in a statement that Russia was “solely responsible for the treaty’s demise” by fielding a new ground-launched missile, the 9M729.

“Russia’s noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners,” Pompeo said.

Esper echoed his rhetoric and said Russia has “been in noncompliance with that treaty for many, many years, going back to the Obama administration and maybe beyond that. ... It’s about time that we were unburdened by the treaty and allowed to pursue our own interests, and our NATO allies share that view as well.”

The INF Treaty, signed in 1987, was meant to prevent the U.S. and Russia from developing and having nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that have ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. 

U.S. officials have publicly accused Russia of violating the treaty since 2014, and the Trump administration in February announced plans to withdraw from the bilateral pact, setting off a six-month withdrawal period that ended Friday.