US President Donald Trump has said he wants a new nuclear agreement to be signed by both Russia and China, replacing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty from which the US withdrew over the weekend.
Trump said he had spoken to the two countries about the idea, and that they were both “very, very excited”. The Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty banned missiles with ranges of 500-5,500km.
The US withdrawal on Friday followed accusations by Washington that Russia had violated the pact by deploying a new type of cruise missile – a charge denied by Moscow.
Responding to questions about how he would avoid a nuclear arms race following the INF treaty’s demise, Trump said his administration had been speaking to Russia “about a pact for nuclear, so that they get rid of some, we get rid of some”.
“We’d certainly have to include China at some point,” he added.
Trump said such a treaty would be “a great thing for the world” and that he believed it would happen. “China was very, very excited about talking about it and so was Russia. So I think we’ll have a deal at some point,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, new US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday, Washington wants to quickly deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Asia, to counter the rise of China in the region.
“Yes I would like to,” Esper said when asked if the US was considering deploying new medium-range conventional weapons in Asia now Washington is no longer bound by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
“We would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later,” Esper told reporters on a plane to Sydney at the start of a week-long tour of Asia. “I would prefer months … But these things tend to take longer than you expect.”
The new Pentagon chief did not specify where the US intended to deploy these weapons.
“I would not speculate because those things depend on plans, it’s those things you always discuss with your allies,” he said.
Under the pact signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Washington and Moscow agreed to limit the use of conventional and nuclear medium-range missiles (with a range of 500-5,000 kilometers, 300-3,000 miles).
But its unraveling had been on the cards for months amid worsening ties between Russia and the US. Washington is now free to compete with China, whose arsenal is largely made up of weapons prohibited under the INF Treaty, to which Beijing was never a signatory. Esper said China should not be surprised by the US plans.
“That should be no surprise because we have been talking about that for some time now,” he said. “And I want to say that 80 percent of their inventory is INF range systems. So that should not surprise that we would want to have a like capability,” he said.
Accusing Russia of “sustained and repeated violations” of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US had already begun work to develop “mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems.”
Moscow has said that Washington is making a “serious mistake” pulling out of the treaty, insisting that the US had abandoned the agreement for its own gain rather than because of alleged Russian violations.
The United States vowed to upgrade its cruise and ballistic missile capability as the collapse Friday of a Cold War nuclear pact with Russia triggered fears of a new arms race. –AFP