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Trump confirms plan to abandon key nuke-control pact with Russia

US President Donald Trump addresses a "Make America Great Again" rally at Elko Regional Airport in Elko, Nevada on October 20, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

US President Donald Trump has confirmed reports that his administration plans to abandon a key arms control treaty with Russia over claims that Moscow has violated the Cold War era nuclear weapons deal, further vowing American development of such mass-destructive weaponry.

"Russia has not adhered to the agreement. So we are going to terminate the agreement," Trump told reporters on Saturday, referring to the landmark Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), just before leading a political campaign rally in Elko, Nevada.

The US president further alleged: "Russia has violated the agreement. They've been violating it for many years. I don't know why president (Barack) Obama didn't negotiate or pull out. And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we're not allowed to."

“We’ll have to develop those weapons,” he then vowed.

The INF, which was signed in 1986 between then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, allowed the US to counter Chinese moves to build up arms in the Pacific but prevented Washington from deploying new nuclear armaments in response. 

The treaty banned all land-based missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,420 miles and included missiles carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads. The original ban between Moscow and Washington led to the elimination of 2,692 missiles.

Trump's announcement came a day after The New York Times reported that the US Defense Department had been developing nuclear weapons to counter Chinese weapons already deployed. 

According to the report, since China is not a signatory to the Washington-Moscow nuclear pact, the Trump administration decided to accuse Russia of violating the NIT.

The Kremlin has not yet reacted to Trump’s announcement of leaving the arms control deal.

Russia’s “decision to violate the INF Treaty and other commitments all clearly indicate that Russia has rebuffed repeated US efforts to reduce the salience, role, and number of nuclear weapons,” the administration declared in a nuclear strategy document earlier this year.

Not first US pullout of nuclear pacts

Trump’s latest withdrawal from the nuclear pact is not his first. The controversial American president also pulled out of the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran.

Earlier this month, US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison reportedly warned that Washington could be forced to “take out” missiles Russia is developing that allegedly violate the INF.

"It is time now for Russia to come to the table and stop the violations," Hutchison told reporters in Brussels.

The last US president to withdraw from a major arms treaty was former President George W. Bush in 2002, when he pulled out of the nuclear Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. 

The announcement also follows a trend for the Trump administration in which Washington enacts harsh policies against Moscow, including sanctions on senior Kremlin officials.

Bolton to visit Moscow to discuss Iran, Syria, N Korea

Saturday’s development came just ahead of a planned visit to Moscow by the White House National security Adviser John Bolton to meet with high-ranking Russian officials. 

The visit will be Bolton’s first to Moscow since he went to broker the details of the now infamous Helsinki summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in July.  

The trip also comes amid mounting tensions with Moscow on several fronts, including the foreign-sponsored war in Syria – where Russian has delivered an S-300 missile defense system in defiance of warnings by the US and its top ally, the Israeli regime -- as well as the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain earlier in the year.

According to US-based press reports, Bolton’s talks in Moscow are also likely to cover Iran, North Korea, the security of the Israeli regime and bi-lateral nuclear arms treaties.

Bolton, the reports add, further plans to warn Russians against meddling in the upcoming US midterm elections, as he did most recently in meetings with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva in August.

During his visit, Bolton is due to meet with Patrushev, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. He will possibly also meet with Putin, though the White House has said nothing definitive on the prospect.

Bolton’s trip to Moscow further reflects Washington’s desire to maintain a dialogue with the Russians in efforts to seek ways to collaborate on issues of mutual concern, despite ongoing tensions.

“The reason for that is to continue to carry through on the conversation that President Trump and President Putin had in Helsinki during the summer to talk about U.S.-Russian relations and where we can make progress, where we still have issues and disagreement,” Bolton stated last week during an interview with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt.

According to local press reports, Bolton’s discussions with top Russian officials are expected to take place Monday and Tuesday, after which he will continue with his regional tour and travel to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. 

Bolton further stated during his interview last week that he aimed to discuss with his foreign counterparts in the three Caucasus region nations about  “the very significant geographical role that they have dealing with Iran, dealing with Russia, dealing with Turkey."

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