Russia says 'no progress' on nuclear treaty ahead of deadline

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov at the conference in Beijing on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation on Jan 30, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Moscow and Washington have made "no progress" in talks on saving a key arms control treaty, a Russian diplomat said on Thursday (Jan 31), with the United States expected to begin withdrawal this weekend.

Russian and US officials had met on the sidelines of a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in Beijing to discuss the fate of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) - a source of raging tensions between Moscow and Washington.

"Unfortunately, there is no progress," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said after talks with Andrea Thompson, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

The United States has warned that it will begin a six-month withdrawal process from the treaty on Feb 2 unless Russia destroys its 9M729 ground-based missile system, which it says breaches the Cold War-era agreement.

Ryabkov called the US position "rather tough, ultimatum-like" and "destructive," state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

"We have not made any progress. We state this not just with sorrow, but with deep concern for the fate of the treaty, for the fate of European and international security," Ryabkov said.

During the conference with the other Security Council nations in Beijing, Ryabkov said bilateral dialogue was stalling on certain topics as one party was "intentionally" refusing to pursue discussions - a thinly veiled reference to the United States.

"Russia can't be blamed for anything. We are always ready for dialogue on all topics, including the most difficult current issues, and to be fully transparent. We expect our partners to take the same approach," he said.

Last week the Russian military displayed the nuclear-capable 9M729 missile system to the media and foreign military officials in an attempt to prove the weapon does not violate the treaty.

Russia says the missile's maximum range is 480km and within the allowed range.

Washington has however said a static display of the cruise missile does not prove its range does not breach the agreement.

Signed in 1987 by US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF treaty bans ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500km

It ended a dangerous build-up of warheads in Europe but there are fears a similar situation could re-emerge.

US officials have said that if Russia misses the Feb 2 deadline, the Pentagon will begin work on its own missile system that would otherwise be barred by the treaty.

Russia has said that because Washington's claims are unsubstantiated the agreement would remain in force even if the US tries to withdraw.

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