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    US's 60-Day Notice Over INF Treaty Fuels Fear of US-Russian Arms Race - Scholars

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    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The United States announced it will suspend adherence to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty within 60 days unless Russia returns to full compliance with the agreement, sparking concerns of an arms race among US lawmakers and allies.

    Ultimatum

    The US and Russian governments have repeatedly accused each other of violating the INF, which was signed in 1987 by then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan, who agreed to destroy all cruise or ground-launched ballistic missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,400 miles.

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the INF ultimatum during a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday.

    "The United States today declares it has found Russia in material breach of the treaty and will suspend our obligations as a remedy effective in 60 days unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance", Pompeo said.

    Pompeo explained that the United States will not produce, test or, deploy any weapons systems during the 60 day period that would be in violation of the INF Treaty to provide Russia with a chance to return to compliance.

    READ MORE: US Not Interested in Maintaining INF Treaty, NATO Ready For Arms Race — Analysts

    In particular, the United States has raised concerns about Russia developing the ground-launched SSC-8 cruise missile (Russian designation 9M729) whose range is between 500 and 5,500 kilometres.

    Pompeo said the United States would welcome it if Russia destroys that program within the next two months and then complies with the INF Treaty’s terms.

    However, Pompeo pointed out that the Trump administration has talked a great deal to the Russian leadership, and while it remains hopeful Moscow will change course, there has been no indication to date that Russia will actually do so.

    In addition, Pompeo said the United States would consult with its European allies and other partners on the next steps Washington will take in the event of a possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty.

    Reactions

    Russia has repeatedly denied being in violation of the INF Treaty, saying the United States knows full well Moscow is in compliance and noted that it is Washington that has breached the accord.

    "Russia strictly abides by the provisions of the INF Treaty, and the American side knows this", Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on 4 December.

    Russia's upper house Defence and Security Committee Chairman Viktor Bondarev told Sputnik on Tuesday that the United States and Russia must hold talks on the INF Treaty in order to adapt the accord to the current situation.

    "[W]e could limit the zone of its operation to the European theatre while permitting the deployment of intermediate- and short-range missiles in other regions where there is an objective necessity [to deploy them]", Bondarev said.

    However, if the United States withdraws from the INF Treaty, Russia will have to respond by developing "unique types of weapons", Bondarev added.

    READ MORE: Russia Will Develop 'Unique' Weapons if US Exits INF Treaty — Senior Lawmaker

    From Russia’s perspective, US deployment of the Aegis Ashore missile defence systems in Eastern Europe amount to treaty violations. Moscow has argued that the system’s vertical launchers are designed for offensive purposes, including the use of sea-based intermediate-range Tomahawk cruise missiles.

    In October, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the treaty over alleged Russian violations.

    The Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin have responded to Trump’s threats by saying that steps will be taken to protect Russian national and security interests.

    Some US lawmakers raised the alarm that the Trump administration's move threatens to trigger an arms race between the United States and Russia.

    "Our immediate task should be to work with our European allies to bring [Russia] back into compliance, not to unilaterally withdraw from the Treaty", US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel said on Tuesday. "We must act responsibly and do everything we can to minimise the risk of rekindling an arms race".

    House of Representatives Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith said the move shows the Trump administration is more focused on withdrawing from international commitments than on the collective security of the United States, its allies, and partners.

    Brown University Watson Institute International Relations Director Nina Tannenwald told Sputnik that resolving the crisis will be difficult given that key members of Trump’s White House cabinet do not want to engage in dialogue to prevent an INF collapse.

    "I think there’s going to be no dialogue on arms control with Russia as long as John Bolton is the National Security adviser", Tannenwald said. "I mean, he is just not interested".

    NATO Exploits Situation

    NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who backed the US announcement to suspend INF commitments, admitted that the alliance was preparing for the deal to be terminated.

    "We call on Russia to urgently return to full and verifiable compliance with the INF Treaty. It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty", Stoltenberg said after the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels. "So Russia now has a last chance to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty but we must also start to prepare for a world without the treaty".

    READ MORE: 

    Meanwhile, NATO foreign ministers in a statement on 4 December collectively declared for the first time that Russia’s 9M729 missile violates the INF Treaty and that it was now up to Moscow to preserve the accord.

    The US Arms Control Association (ACA) in a press release said it was disappointed in Stoltenberg’s failure to pursue a diplomatic solution. ACA called on NATO leadership to explore Russia's invitation to review proposals to prevent the collapse of the INF.

    "On 26 Nov., Russian Deputy Foreign Minister [Sergei] Ryabkov said that Russia is ‘open to any mutually beneficial proposals that take into account the interests and concerns of both parties'", the ACA said on Tuesday. "If Washington is serious about removing the 9M729 missile threat, NATO should explore what that means and table a serious proposal".

    If Russia is serious about preserving the treaty, the release added, it should discuss US concerns over the 9M729 missile system.

    The ACA also said the United States must take steps to allay Moscow’s concerns over Aegis missile interceptors in Eastern Europe including transparency measures to reduce fears that the launchers could be used for offensive missiles.

    Scientific American Managing Editor Curtis Brainard told Sputnik that NATO is well positioned to benefit from the collapse of the INF Treaty.

    "The INF is particularly relevant to US-Russia relations because of NATO — because NATO was a nuclear power and it’s NATO that would really probably take the greatest advantage of short, intermediate-range weapons", Brainard explained.

    READ MORE: NATO to Prepare for Termination of INF Treaty — Stoltenberg

    Brainard also said he was really disappointed to see Trump cancel his one-on-one with Putin at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires over the weekend because the two leaders could have held productive discussions on issues like the INF Treaty.

    "We need to have a return to a kind of serious talk on the premise of dialogue", he added.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Related:

    Suspending INF Treaty Risks Triggering New Arms Race - US Congressman
    Russia in Full Compliance With INF Treaty, US Side Knows Well About It - Moscow
    US Won't Produce, Test or Deploy Any Missile That Violates INF Treaty - Pompeo
    NATO to Prepare for Termination of INF Treaty - Stoltenberg
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    ultimatum, violation, arms race, INF Treaty, Mike Pompeo, United States, Russia
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