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US says ‘No new ground broken’ with Russia on missile treaty impasse

Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson delivers remarks at the NPT Depositary Conference on the 50th Anniversary of the Opening for Signature of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, at the Department of State. (U.S. State Department/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has rejected a Russian proposal on saving a key Cold War arms control treaty because the pact cannot be properly verified.

The comments, made on January 16 by U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson, sets the stage for Washington to withdraw next month from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF.

Speaking after a meeting in Geneva between Russian and U.S. officials, Thompson said Moscow was refusing to allow proper inspection of a new Russian missile system that Washington says violates the bilateral treaty.

“We weren’t able to break any new ground yesterday with Russia,” Thompson said of the January 15 meeting with Russian Foreign Ministry officials.

“Based on yesterday’s discussions and corresponding rhetoric today, we see no indication that Russia would choose compliance,” Thompson told reporters.

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of seeking to dismantle the system of weapons pacts and said that Moscow is willing to try and preserve the INF.

Holding his annual press conference on January 16, Lavrov lashed out repeatedly at the United States amid severely strained relations between Moscow and Washington.

“Unilateral actions by Washington that are aimed at the demolition of very important international legal instruments that provide for strategic stability have not added to optimism,” Lavrov said.

He claimed that this aim was “confirmed very clearly” at talks in Geneva on the INF treaty, asserting that the United States ignored Russian explanations of a missile that is allegedly in violation of the INF.

The treaty bans ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Nearly 2,700 missiles were eliminated by the Soviet Union and the United States — most of the latter in Europe — under the treaty.

Russia has warned that if the United States abandons the pact and deploys such missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond in kind.

Without agreement between Moscow and Washington, a U.S. withdrawal over six months will start on February 2.

European allies are worried about the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe, as happened in the 1980s, while being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.

Lavrov also repeated suggestions that Moscow would like to preserve the 2010 New START treaty governing U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear arms, which is set to expire in 2021 but can be extended for five years by mutual agreement.