In this June 27, 2018 file photo, US National Security Adviser John Bolton waits for the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not in frame) in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Bolton will be in Moscow for two days beginning on Oct 22, 2018, where he will be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after US President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from a landmark nuclear weapons treaty. (ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO / AP)
MOSCOW — US National Security Adviser John Bolton began talks with top Russian officials Monday during a previously scheduled trip that took a new turn with President Donald Trump saying he would pull out of a landmark nuclear weapons treaty.
Russian officials have expressed disappointment with Trump's announcement on Saturday that the United States would walk away from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will be meeting with Bolton, who is in Moscow for two days of talk, and is anxious to hear his explanations for Trump's decision, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will be meeting with Bolton, who is in Moscow for two days of talk, and is anxious to hear his explanations for Trump's decision, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday
Bolton was meeting with Security Council chairman Nikolai Patrushev Monday morning, Russian news agencies reported.
Trump alleged that Russia violated terms of the treaty that prohibit the US and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.
Putin denies the allegation, Peskov said. He said the US withdrawal from the treaty would "make the world a more dangerous place."
Trump didn't provide details about any alleged violations. Russia has repeatedly denied violating the treaty and accused the United States of being out of compliance.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as telling state news agency Tass that leaving the treaty "would be a very dangerous step."
It would "cause the most serious condemnation from all members of the international community who are committed to security and stability."
Konstatin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said on Facebook that a US withdrawal from the treaty would mean "mankind is facing full chaos in the nuclear weapons sphere."
"Washington's desire to turn back politics cannot be supported. Not only Russia, but also all who cherish the world, especially a world without nuclear weapons, must declare this," former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the treaty in 1987 with President Ronald Reagan, was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.
Western reaction was mixed.
British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said the UK stands "absolutely resolute" with Washington on the issue and called on the Kremlin to "get its house in order," according to the Financial Times.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Trump's announcement "raises difficult questions for us and Europe," but noted that Russia hasn't cleared up allegations of violating the treaty.
In this Dec 8, 1987 file photo, then-US President Ronald Reagan, right, and then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens during the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signing ceremony in the White House East Room in Washington, D.C. (BOB DAUGHERTY / AP)
US Senator Bob Corker, a member of Trump's Republican Party, warned that withdraw from the INF could lead to undoing other arms treaties. But he suggested that Trump's statement could be aimed at pressuring Moscow rather than a firm determination to leave the treaty.
"Maybe this is just a move to say, look ... if you don't straighten up we're moving out of this," he said Sunday on CNN. "And I hope that's the case."
Sen. Rand Paul, also a Republican, pointed the finger at Bolton, saying on Fox News that he is likely the one advising Trump to withdraw and "I don't think he recognizes the important achievement of Reagan and Gorbachev on this."
Once the United States withdraws from the treaty, there is no reason for Russia to even pretend it is observing the limits
Steven Pifer, Former US ambassador to Ukraine
The prospect of withdrawing from the INF adds to the substantial tensions between Washington and Moscow, including allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and sanctions imposed over Russia's involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict.
The treaty helps protect the security of the US and its allies in Europe and the Far East, but has constrained the US from developing new weapons.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has previously suggested that a Trump administration proposal to add a sea-launched cruise missile to Washington's nuclear arsenal could provide the US with leverage to try to persuade Russia to come back in line on the arms treaty.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said in February that the country would only consider using nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or in response to a non-nuclear assault that endangered the survival of the Russian nation.
Trump's decision could prove controversial with European allies and others who see value in the treaty, said Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on nuclear arms control.
"Once the United States withdraws from the treaty, there is no reason for Russia to even pretend it is observing the limits," he wrote in a post on the organization's website. "Moscow will be free to deploy the 9M729 cruise missile, and an intermediate-range ballistic missile if it wants, without any restraint."
In the past, the Obama administration worked to convince Moscow to respect the INF treaty, but made little progress.
"If they get smart and if others get smart and they say 'let's not develop these horrible nuclear weapons,' I would be extremely happy with that, but as long as somebody's violating the agreement, we're not going to be the only ones to adhere to it," Trump said.
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