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Experts bid to keep U.S.-Russia arms pact

Arms control experts called on U.S. President Donald Trump to keep the United States in a Cold War-era treaty with Russia to prevent nuclear war.

WASHINGTON (AN) — Arms control experts called on U.S. President Donald Trump to keep the United States in a Cold War-era treaty that has led to the destruction of almost 2,700 missiles and their launchers.

One of the experts' letters to Trump — signed by a bipartisan group of 14 current and former U.S. political and military leaders — urged him to reverse his plans to withdraw the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

The United States must "sustain meaningful, verifiable limits on the world's two largest nuclear arsenals in order to provide more predictability, transparency and stability in our nuclear relationship with Russia," they wrote to Trump.

Trump announced plans last month for a U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty, saying Russia broke the landmark agreement. Over the past decade, U.S. officials accused Russia of developing nuclear-capable cruise missiles to threaten or provoke the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.

Russia, in response, has claimed the United States violated the pact by researching new American missile defenses that could be deployed if the Russians did not comply.

The experts' letters, first reported by The New York Times, agreed and acknowledged that Russia has violated the treaty. But they urged Trump to remain in the treaty nonetheless, because they said it was important to "redouble efforts to negotiate technical solutions" that could ensure compliance.

They also urged the United States and Russia to renew a decade-long nuclear pact known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, that took effect in 2011. It is due to expire in 2021.

"Every American president since John F. Kennedy has successfully concluded at least one agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear dangers," William Perry, a former defense secretary, George Schultz, a former secretary of state, and Nancy Kassebaum, Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn, all three former U.S. senators, wrote along with nine others.

"Without New START," they wrote, "there would be no legally binding, verifiable limits on the U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972."

Heading off a new arms race

Another letter, sent by a group of former high-level military officers called the American College of National Security Leaders, described the INF Treaty as "a bedrock to our current arms control regime and serves rather than hampers American interests.”

More than 30 years ago, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty banning all U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. America's aim was to protect itself and its allies in Europe and elsewhere.

The treaty led to the destruction of the missiles and their launchers, and strengthened the U.S.-Soviet relationship. But in 2014, the Obama administration said Russia was violating the treaty by testing a ground-launched intermediate cruise missile. In 2017, the Trump administration revived the charge, saying Russia had started to deploy an intermediate range missile, the 9M729.

Trump said the U.S. military would begin to develop its own prohibited types of cruise missiles unless Russia and China — which is not part of the treaty — were to both "come to us and say let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons."

European leaders criticized Trump's withdrawal plans. Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested a new arms race could result. Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, favors U.S. withdrawals from any international organizations and treaties that he views as threats to American sovereignty.

Before Trump took office, there was some progress on the global arms control front. Last year, more than 120 countries approved the first-ever legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Survivors of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, at the end of World War II, hailed passage of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which has not yet taken effect.

Nine countries known or believed to possess nuclear weapons — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — withheld support from that treaty.

But a United Nations Security Council resolution on arms control that was unanimously approved in 2009 had the backing of China, Russia, the United States and developing nations. Approved at a summit-level meeting chaired by then-U.S. President Barack Obama, the resolution called for greater efforts towards disarmament and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism.