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US to withdraw from missile treaty in 60 days unless Russia reverses course, Pompeo says

Posted December 4, 2018 1:01 p.m. EST

— Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday that the US will stop adhering to a decades-old nuclear treaty in 60 days unless Russia returns to compliance with the agreement.

"The United States declares today 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 at a NATO meeting in Belgium.

Pompeo said Russia's violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty undermine American national security and as such, the US should not be "constrained" by a treaty that hampers its ability to respond.

Pompeo cast Russia's violation, which the Kremlin denies, of the treaty as part of a wider web of destabilizing behavior, including Moscow's recent clash with Ukraine in the Kerch Strait.

'Russia is responsible'

"These violations of the INF treaty cannot be viewed in isolation from the larger pattern of Russian lawlessness on the world stage," he declared. "The list of Russia's infamous acts is long: Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, election meddling, Skripal and now the Kerch Strait, to name just a few."

"While Russia is responsible for the demise of the treaty," Pompeo added, other nations such as China were not in compliance.

The treaty's signing during the waning years of the Cold War was seen as a watershed moment, helping to eliminate thousands of land-based missiles with ranges between approximately 300 and 3,400 miles.

The other members of NATO agreed that Russia is in violation because it has "developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty." In a unanimous 10-point statement, the alliance said, "we strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty."

"We call on Russia to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance," the statement said. "It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty."

'Complete unity'

Pompeo said he worked with his counterparts at the NATO meeting to achieve "complete unity around this."

"We believe this is the right outcome," he said.

"There is complete unanimity that the Russian action was lawless and unacceptable and deterrence must be restored and that is a collective commitment of Europe and the world to deny Russia the capacity to continue to violate basic international law norms," he said.

He cited Russia's recent clash with Ukraine, saying the US hoped the Russians would return captured Ukrainian soldiers "immediately."

"We will collectively develop a set of responses that demonstrate to Russia that this behavior is simply unacceptable," Pompeo said. He did not detail what those responses might be.

Pompeo's remarks follow President Donald Trump's announcement in October that he intended to pull out the 1987 accord.

"Russia has violated the agreement," Trump said in October before a campaign rally in Nevada. "They've been violating it for many years. We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we've honored the agreement. Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement."

Some analysts have suggested that the Trump administration's aversion to international agreements and the views of national security adviser John Bolton are another driving force behind the decision.

After Trump's October comments, the Russian government ratcheted up the rhetoric, saying it would be forced "to take measures" if the United States began developing new missile systems.

On Tuesday in Brussels, Pompeo made clear that NATO is now looking to Russia to act.

'The burden falls on Russia'

"The burden falls on Russia to make the necessary changes. Only they can save this treaty," he said. "If Russia admits its violations and fully and verifiably comes back into compliance, we will of course welcome this course of action."

"The United States and our NATO allies stand vigilant that Russia's lawless conduct will not be tolerated in the realm of arms control or anywhere else," he said.

Pompeo noted that during the 60-day period, the US would continue to adhere to the treaty: "we will not test or produce or deploy any systems."

The secretary of state also said the US had talked to the Russians "a great deal," and while Washington was "hopeful" Moscow would change course, US officials didn't see indications that would happen.