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Trump Administration Announces U.S. Will Pull Out Of INF Treaty


The United States will withdraw from a Cold War-era arms control treaty. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says talks between the United States and Russia - the parties here have failed because Russia has not agreed to destroy some of its missiles.


MIKE POMPEO: We provided Russia an ample window of time to mend its ways and for Russia to honor its commitment. Tomorrow that time runs out. Russia has refused to take any steps to return real and verifiable compliance over these 60 days. The United States will therefore suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty effective February 2.

INSKEEP: That's tomorrow. INF Treaty - that's Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. We're talking about medium-range missiles, the kinds of things you could reach from one country in Europe to another country in Europe with. NPR's Michele Kelemen is covering this story from the State Department. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How big a deal has this treaty been over the last 32 years?

KELEMEN: Well, I mean, this was a landmark deal for security in Europe. It was signed in 1987 by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan. And it banned an entire class of weapons. These are ground-launched cruise missiles that range from 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

INSKEEP: Which - what? - kind of made it a little less likely there would be a hair-trigger response and a sudden nuclear war by mistake. Is that right?

KELEMEN: That's right, and that was a key to stability in Europe for all of these years. I should note, however, it does not cover, you know, countries that are developing these kinds of missiles. Think about China, Iran and others.

INSKEEP: Which is suspected of being one of the reasons the United States might have wanted out, but the U.S. also said there were real violations by Russia of this treaty. What has Russia been saying about that?

KELEMEN: Well, Russia denies that. But, you know, this has been a source of controversy for the last six years. And both the Obama administration and the Trump administration have been raising concerns about a Russian missile that they say violates it. The move today was really a long time coming. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. gave Russia plenty of time to mend its ways and come back into compliance, but that time runs out this weekend. So what the U.S. is doing now is formally notifying Russia that it's withdrawing from this treaty. There's now this six-month waiting period before the INF Treaty is, as Pompeo puts it, terminated. And administration officials say this could give Russia one final chance to destroy these missiles.

INSKEEP: Oh, so there's a time to withdraw, so a clock is running at this point. Michele, I want to draw a distinction here because, of course, President Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrew from a climate accord largely on his own and was denounced by a lot of the world. But it sounds like there are U.S. allies, in this case, in Europe who agree that Russia was violating the treaty and seem supportive at least somewhat of the U.S. course.

KELEMEN: Yeah. Well, NATO agrees that this was a violation - that what the Russians are doing is a violation. But they're also kind of nervous about all of this and where it heads. And they're pushing, again, the Russians to come back into compliance. There's just very little optimism that that can go given that there have been lots of negotiations that have really reached an impasse.

INSKEEP: And we should note the Russians have denied that they're out of compliance. Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.