Trump to abandon arms pact with Russia as soon as Saturday, US official says

The Trump administration will stop abiding by a landmark arms control pact with Russia as soon as Saturday after last-minute diplomatic efforts to bring Moscow back into compliance failed, a top State Department official told Reuters.

“We’ll have an announcement made, follow all the steps that need to be taken on the treaty to suspend our obligations with the intent to withdraw,” Andrea Thompson, under secretary of State for arms control and international security, told the publication in an interview Thursday.

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Thompson’s remarks followed talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Beijing, where Thompson is leading the U.S. delegation at the 2019 P5 Conference.

The U.S. has publicly accused Russia of violating the Soviet-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) since 2014, which Moscow denies. President TrumpDonald John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could MORE signaled in October that he planned to withdraw from the treaty, citing Russia's failure to comply.

The pact was signed in 1987 by then-President Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It bans all land-based missiles with short and intermediate ranges.

On Dec. 4, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Top Dem demands State Department documents on Khashoggi killing MORE gave Russia 60 days to comply with the treaty, setting a Feb. 2 deadline before the U.S. would vacate its commitments under the agreement unless Russia came back into compliance.

The process to formally withdraw from the treaty takes six months, but the U.S. plans to stop complying with it as soon as this weekend, Thompson said.

She said the Pentagon would be able to begin developing longer-range missiles if it so chooses.

“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,” Thompson told Reuters.

Thompson signaled as recently as last week that Russia was unlikely to come back into compliance, triggering the U.S. to suspend its own obligations. 

The U.S. has accused Moscow of breaching the treaty by fielding a new cruise missile known as the 9M729. Russia has denied this, saying the missile has a range of 480 kilometers — 20 kilometers less than the lower limit imposed by the treaty.