Reuters BRUSSELS (Reuters) — The United States delivered Russia a 60-day ultimatum on Tuesday to come clean about what Washington says is a violation of an arms control treaty that keeps missiles out of Europe, saying only Moscow could save the pact.
NATO allies led by Germany pressed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a meeting in Brussels to give diplomacy a final push before Washington pulls out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, fearing a new arms race in Europe.
“Russia has a last chance to show in a verifiable way that they comply with the treaty ... but we also have to start to prepare for the fact that this treaty may break down,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
NATO foreign ministers agreed to formally declare Russia in “material breach” of the INF treaty in a statement in support of the United States, after Pompeo briefed them at the alliance headquarters in Brussels on Russian violations and on U.S. President Donald Trump’s stated aim to withdraw from it.
Russia denies undertaking any such development of land-based, intermediate-range cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting European cities at short notice.
Germany, the Netherlands and Belgian are concerned about the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe — as happened in the 1980s, touching off large anti-American demonstrations — while being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.
A U.S. exit from the INF treaty would put another strain on NATO allies already shaken by Trump’s demands for higher defense spending and what diplomats say is a lack of clarity about where U.S. strategy is heading on the issue.
While Stoltenberg said there would now be an intense diplomatic push to try to convince Russia to give up what Pompeo said were “multiple battalions of the SSC-8 missiles,” Washington is set to start to pull out in February, prompting a six-month withdrawal period under the accord, diplomats said.
“Its range makes it a direct menace to Europe,” Pompeo said of the missiles, which also are called Novator 9M729. He added that Russia’s actions “greatly undermine America’s national security and that of our allies.”
Difficult to detect and fired from mobile launchers, the Russian missiles are especially dangerous because they reduce the warning time that NATO air defenses might have to shoot them down, military experts say.
Pompeo said the U.S. government had raised the issue at least 30 times since 2013 with Moscow but had faced what he said were denials and counter-actions.