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U.S. Abandons Landmark Reagan-Era Arms Control Treaty


The U.S. is pulling out of a landmark arms control treaty that heralded the end of the Cold War. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, said his country would respond quid pro quo and is pulling out as well. The Trump administration says Russia's been violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty for years. President Trump gave Moscow 60 days to comply with the deal. That deadline expired today. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not bother waiting out the full 60 days before declaring Russia had failed to meet Washington's demands. Here's Pompeo yesterday on Day 59 at the State Department.


MIKE POMPEO: 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.

WELNA: What that means is Washington will no longer be constrained by a treaty that banned for both the U.S. and Russia all ground-launched ballistic missiles with the range between 300 and 3,400 miles. American officials have been accusing Russia since late in the Obama administration of fielding battalions of a cruise missile that violates the treaty. Pompeo's announcement begins a formal six-month notification period for pulling out.


POMPEO: If Russia does not return to full and verifiable compliance with the treaty within this six-month period by verifiably destroying its INF-violating missiles, their launchers and associated equipment, the treaty will terminate.

WELNA: But far from destroying those missiles, today Russian President Vladimir Putin did a tit for tat.



WELNA: "Our American partners," Putin said, "have declared they are suspending their participation in the treaty. We are, too."

Since both Russia and the United States have to give six months' notice that they're abandoning the INF treaty, the pact itself cannot be ended until early August. Its demise would mark the end of what began as a remarkable meeting of leaders whose nations had long been adversaries. At the White House signing of the INF Treaty 31 years ago, then-President Ronald Reagan told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev he had a maxim to share.


RONALD REAGAN: The maxim is (speaking Russian) - trust but verify.


WELNA: Yesterday, another Republican president called for a do-over.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I hope that we're able to get everybody in a very big and beautiful room and do a new treaty that would be much better.

WELNA: President Trump first announced the U.S. was pulling out of the treaty in October. He sent John Bolton, his new national security adviser and a longtime opponent of the deal, to Moscow to put authorities there on notice.


PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

WELNA: "The Americans' decision to withdraw from this treaty," Putin said, "cannot go unanswered."

Russia did request a meeting with U.S. officials last month in Geneva, but it went nowhere. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Andrea Thompson represented the U.S. at that meeting. And the following day, she lectured Moscow on Twitter.


ANDREA THOMPSON: Russia faces a choice. It can either have its noncompliant missile system, or it can have the INF Treaty. But it can't have both.

WELNA: Russia insists it's done nothing to violate the treaty and, last week, tried to prove it. At a cavernous exhibition hall outside Moscow, Russia's Defense Ministry put on display what it claimed was the cruise missile the U.S. says violates the INF Treaty, as well as its supposed launcher, and invited the U.S. to inspect them. Washington turned down the invitation, saying Russia's claims were not verifiable. Bad move, says one arms control expert.

STEVEN PIFER: There was a smarter way to leave the treaty or to prepare the ground for leaving the treaty than the administration has done.

WELNA: Steven Pifer is a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who's a William Perry fellow at Stanford. He says the Trump administration should have agreed to inspect that missile under specific conditions.

PIFER: In the end, the Russians might not have agreed to what we needed. But then the onus would've been on the Russians for failing to try to save the treaty, not on the United States.

WELNA: Without the treaty, both the U.S. and Russia will be able to build the kind of missiles China's been able to field with no constraints. No matter which side ultimately gets blamed for the treaty's demise, the kind of arms race Reagan and Gorbachev once sought to end soon may be on again. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.