Trump administration to suspend nuclear treaty with Russia

The Trump administration announced Friday that it would suspend its obligations under a decades old Cold War arms control pact with Russia on Saturday, citing Moscow's violations of the treaty.

The White House announced the decision to stop complying with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in a statement from President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE early Friday, just before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the move in remarks from the State Department.

“Russia has refused to take any steps to return to real and verifiable compliance over these 60 days,” Pompeo said.

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“The United States will therefore suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty effective Feb. 2, and we will provide Russia and the other treaty parties with formal notice that the United States is withdrawing from the INF Treaty effective in six months pursuant to Article 15 of the treaty,” he continued.

In his statement, Trump pledged the United States would “move forward with developing our own military response options” to Russia’s violations and work with allies to “deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct.”

“For arms control to effectively contribute to national security, all parties must faithfully implement their obligations,” Trump said. “We stand ready to engage with Russia on arms control negotiations that meet these criteria, and, importantly, once that is done, develop, perhaps for the first time ever, an outstanding relationship on economic, trade, political and military levels. This would be a fantastic thing for Russia and the United States, and would also be great for the world.”

The U.S. has publicly accused Russia of violating the treaty since 2014 during the Obama administration by fielding a cruise missile known as the 9M729. The agreement, signed by then-President Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, bans nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Russia has repeatedly denied violating the treaty, leading to an impasse in diplomatic talks aimed at bringing Moscow back into compliance.

“We provided Russia an ample window of time to mend its ways and for Russia to honor its commitment,” Pompeo said. “Tomorrow, that time runs out.”

Pompeo on Friday accused Moscow of “jeopardizing” U.S. national security with its violations.

“Russia has jeopardized the United States’s security interests and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it,” Pompeo said.  

Friday’s announcement was expected. Trump signaled back in October that the U.S. would withdraw from the treaty, citing Moscow’s violations as a key reason for doing so. In December, Pompeo gave Moscow 60 days to come back into compliance before the U.S. would suspend its commitments.

While current and former officials broadly agree Russia has violated the treaty for years, the U.S. move has nevertheless triggered concerns about the impact on the global strategic environment.

Arms control advocates in particular worry withdrawing from the INF Treaty could trigger a Cold War-style arms race, thereby upending stability in Europe and elsewhere.

“Flipping over the negotiating table and storming out of the room may have worked in real estate, but when you’re dealing with nuclear treaties, the risk of misplaying your hand isn’t a failed business venture — it’s an arms race and possibly nuclear war,” Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, said in a statement. “The administration’s decision does nothing to make America safer and does not bode well for the future of nuclear arms control.”

Pompeo pushed back on those fears Friday when questioned by reporters, suggesting Russia’s violations had themselves spurred the risk of an arms race.

“The very risk that you identified is the one that we are suffering from today,” Pompeo said.

A senior administration official later told reporters that the blame for any arms race would fall on Russia, suggesting Moscow was forcing the administration’s hand with its violations.

“The United States has tried everything it could since May of 2013 to make Russia understand that its interests are best served in the treaty,” the official said. “If there’s an arms race, it’s Russia that’s started it.”

It remains unclear what military steps the United States will take now that it has suspended its obligations to the treaty.

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Asked Friday about developing new missiles, senior administration officials said it would take “some time” to make decisions.

“It will take us time to make decisions about what kind of capability would we deploy, what kind of capability would we test. What we do know is that we are some time away from a flight test,” the official said. “We are certainly time away from an acquisition decision and from an eventual deployment decision.”

"We are only looking at conventional options at this time," the official added.

The official stressed that any decision would be made in consultation with U.S. allies in Europe.

Pompeo in his remarks gave a “special thanks” to NATO allies for backing the United States on its move. Trump’s October announcement was said to have caught allies off guard, but Pompeo consulted with NATO at a December ministerial and allies released a statement of support then.

On Friday, NATO’s political decisionmaking body released a eight-paragraph statement outlining Russia’s violations of the treaty, adding that allies “fully support” the U.S. suspension.

“Unless Russia honours its INF Treaty obligations through the verifiable destruction of all of its 9M729 systems, thereby returning to full and verifiable compliance before the U.S. withdrawal takes effect in six months, Russia will bear sole responsibility for the end of the treaty,” the North Atlantic Council statement said.

The move is likely to irritate existing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, despite Trump’s oft-cited desire to improve relations with Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pompeo indicated Friday that U.S. officials would continue to have discussions with their Russian counterparts in the hopes of bringing Moscow back into compliance with the treaty over the next six months.

Pompeo also said the administration is “hopeful” the relationship between Washington and Moscow can be improved, but he put the onus on Russia to change its behavior.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback MORE (D-N.J.) slammed Friday’s announcement as a “geostrategic gift” to Putin and accused Trump of lacking “an appreciation or understating of the importance” of arms control treaties.

“Through its actions, the Kremlin bears responsibility for the degradation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty,” Menendez said in statement. “Throughout this process however, I have had serious concerns that the Trump administration lacks a coherent strategy to address the threat new Russian cruise missiles pose to the interests of the United States and those of our allies.”

Menendez also raised the issue of the New START agreement, which caps the number of nuclear warheads the United States and Russia are allowed to deploy. New START comes up for renewal in February 2021, and some fear the INF withdrawal also portends the end of New START.

“With the renewal of the New START agreement coming up next year, I strongly urge the administration try a new approach and develop a coherent strategy to stabilize our arms control regime,” Menendez said.

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, applauded Friday’s move as long overdue.

“The Russian government has had endless opportunities to change their bad behavior, and over the past 60 days has proven its disinterest in doing so,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischTrump moves forward with billion F-16 sale to Taiwan Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China Overnight Defense: US exits landmark arms control treaty with Russia | Pentagon vows to 'fully pursue' once-banned missiles | Ratcliffe out as intel pick | Trump signs budget deal that boosts defense | Trump defends North Korea's Kim as 'friend' MORE (R-Idaho) said in a statement. “The time has come to set the treaty aside and develop alternative avenues toward the security the treaty once provided.”

Updated at 2:31 p.m.