NATO urges Trump officials not to quit nuclear treaty

A view of the work session room ahead of a plenary session during the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, 12 July 2018. [Ian Lansdon/EPA/EFE]

European members of NATO urged the United States on Thursday (25 October) to try to bring Russia back into compliance with a nuclear arms control treaty rather than quit it, diplomats said, seeking to avoid a split in the alliance that Moscow could exploit.

In a closed-door meeting at NATO, Pentagon, US State Department and National Security Council officials briefed alliance envoys on US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles.

Diplomats present said Germany and other European allies called for a final effort on Washington’s part to convince the Kremlin to stop what the West says are violations, or possibly renegotiate it to include China.

“Allies want to see a last-ditch effort to avoid a US withdrawal,” one NATO diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the meeting, which took place two days after senior US official John Bolton informed Russian President Vladimir Putin of the plans in Moscow.

“Nobody takes issue with Russia’s violation of the treaty, but a withdrawal would make it easy for Moscow to blame us for the end of this landmark agreement,” a second diplomat said.

EU urges US, Russia talks to 'preserve' nuclear treaty

The European Commission on Monday (22 October) urged the United States and Russia to pursue talks to preserve a nuclear weapons treaty after President Donald Trump said Washington was withdrawing from the deal. 

NATO declined to comment on the details of the meeting but issued a statement saying that allies assessed “the implications of Russia’s destabilising behaviour on our security.”

“NATO allies will continue to consult on this important issue,” it added.

Earlier this week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg laid the blame on Russia for violating the treaty by developing the SSC-8, a land-based, intermediate-range Cruise missile which also has the name of Novator 9M729.

Russia denies any such violations and says it will respond in kind if the US leaves the INF treaty.

Russia pledges 'balance' if US quits nuclear pact; Trump eyes more weapons

Russia said on Monday (22 October) it would be forced to respond in kind to restore the military balance with the United States if President Donald Trump carried through on a threat to quit a nuclear arms treaty and began developing new missiles.

NATO allies including Belgium and the Netherlands, which host US nuclear weapons facilities in Europe, warned in the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s highest decision-making body, of a public outcry if the United States were to try to install medium-range nuclear weapons on their territory again.

Stoltenberg said on Wednesday he did not think this would lead to reciprocal deployments of US missiles in Europe as happened in the 1980s.

European allies see the INF treaty as a pillar of arms control and, while accepting that Moscow is violating it by developing new weapons, are concerned its collapse could lead to a new arms race with possibly a new generation of US nuclear missiles stationed on the continent.

Diplomats said the US officials did hold out the possibility that the United States may delay its formal withdrawal to after a planned meeting between Putin and Trump in Paris on 11 November.

Putin-Trump Paris meet in preparation for 11 November

President Donald Trump said Tuesday (23 October) he “probably” will meet with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Paris on 11 November. Both Trump and Putin already are planning to be in the French capital that day to mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.

The treaty foresees a six-month notification period for any withdrawal, also potentially giving Washington time to negotiate with Moscow before finally pulling out.

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