The United States formally withdrew from a landmark 1987 nuclear missile pact with Russia after determining Moscow was violating the treaty, an accusation denied by the Kremlin.
Washington signalled it would pull out of the arms control treaty six months ago unless Moscow stuck to the accord. Russia called the move a ploy to exit a pact the United States wanted to leave to develop new missiles.
President Donald Trump told reporters he would like a new arms deal with Russia reducing all nuclear forces and possibly with China.
“If we could get a pact where they reduce and we reduce nuclear, that would be a good thing for the world. I do believe that will happen,” Trump said.
The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was negotiated by then-US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It banned land-based missiles with a range up to 5 500 km, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.
The dispute is aggravating the worst US-Russia friction since the Cold War ended in 1991. Some experts believe the treaty’s collapse could undermine other arms control agreements and speed erosion of the global system blocking the spread of nuclear weapons.
“The United States will not remain party to a treaty deliberately violated by Russia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
“Russia’s non-compliance under the treaty jeopardizes US supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States, our allies and partners,” Pompeo said.
Senior Trump administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russia deployed “multiple battalions” of cruise missiles throughout Russia in violation of the pact, including in western Russia, “with the ability to strike critical European targets.”
Russia denies the allegation, saying missile range puts it outside the treaty. It rejected a US demand to destroy the new missile, Novator 9M729 known as SSC-8 by the NATO Western military alliance.
Moscow told Washington the US decision to quit the pact undermines global security and removes a key pillar of international arms control.
China’s new ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, said China regrets the United States withdrawal from the treaty and expressed doubt about joining the United States and Russia in a nuclear deal.
“The United States is saying China should be a party in this disarmament agreement, but I think everybody knows China is not at the same level as the United States and the Russian Federation,” he said.
Russia asked the United States for a moratorium on deployment of land-based short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
“A serious mistake was made in Washington,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
“We introduced a unilateral moratorium and won’t deploy land-based short or medium-range missiles, if we get them, in regions where such US missiles are not deployed,” it said.
President Vladimir Putin said Russia does not want an arms race and has promised he would not deploy Russian missiles unless the United States does so first.
Should Washington take such a step, he would be forced to deploy Russian hypersonic nuclear missiles on ships or submarines near US territorial waters.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Russia’s moratorium request, saying it was “not a credible offer” as Moscow already deployed illegal missiles.
“There are no new US missiles, no new NATO missiles in Europe, but there are more and more new Russian missiles,” he said.
‘WE DON’T WANT A NEW ARMS RACE’
NATO agreed a defensive package of measures to deter Russia. That response would be measured and would only involve conventional weapons, it said.
Stoltenberg said there would be “no rash moves” by the alliance which “would not mirror what Russia does.”
“We don’t want a new arms race,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO members Britain and Poland blamed Moscow for the treaty’s demise.
“Their contempt for the rules-based international system threatens European security,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter.
European officials voiced concern if the treaty collapses, Europe could again become an arena for a nuclear-armed, intermediate-range missile build-up by the United States and Russia.
US officials said the United States was months away from first flight tests of an American intermediate-range missile as a counter to the Russians. Any deployment would be years away, they said.
“We are at the stage of looking at how we might further development of conventional options,” an official said.