Rising alarm over news of US exiting nuclear pact

Republican lawmakers criticise Trump's decision to pull out of arms treaty with Russia

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump's weekend announcement that he would pull the United States out of a key nuclear arms control treaty alarmed members of his own party, who criticised the decision and worried that other international pacts to control proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons also might be upended.

"I hope we're not moving down the path to undo much of the nuclear arms control treaties that we have put in place," Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said on Sunday on CNN's State Of The Union programme, noting that he had heard that the Trump administration wanted to pull out of not only the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), but also New Start.

"I think that would be a huge mistake," said Mr Corker, the Republican Senator for Tennessee.

Mr Trump told reporters on Saturday that his administration would "terminate" and "pull out" of the INF treaty, a strategic arms reduction pact that then President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev struck in 1987.

Russia has long been accused of violating the treaty, prompting calls from some defence hawks in the United States to end US participation in the deal.

Many also argue that the treaty is obsolete, because it does not restrict China's proliferation.

New Start seeks to limit the stockpile of long-range and submarine missiles and heavy bombers, plus related warheads and launchers, in US and Russian possession.

Mr Corker played a leading role in helping the Senate ratify an updated extension of the treaty in 2010, but its future is in doubt, as it expires in early 2021.

Mr Trump's announcement came as National Security Adviser John Bolton travelled to Russia to meet counterparts and discuss, among other things, treaty compliance.

Mr Corker said Mr Trump's announcement to pull out of the INF treaty came as a surprise - and one he hoped was simply bluster.

"This could be something that is just a precursor to try to get Russia to come into compliance," he said.

A Kremlin spokesman said Russian President Vladimir Putin would seek answers about the planned withdrawal when he meets Mr Bolton for scheduled talks in Moscow today.

Though it takes a two-thirds vote of Congress to ratify a treaty, there is no constitutionally mandated congressional role in tearing one up - leaving critical lawmakers, including Republican Senator Rand Paul little recourse but to plead with Mr Trump to pursue negotiations to update the INF treaty instead of declaring it dead.

"It's a big, big mistake to flippantly get out of this historic agreement," Mr Paul said. "I'm all for trying to sign an agreement with China, but that would have to be a brand-new agreement. It's no reason to end the agreement we have with Russia."

Mr Gorbachev, 87, also said on Sunday that it would be a mistake for Washington to quit the treaty. He added that it would undermine the work he and US counterparts did to end the Cold War arms race, and said: "Do they really not understand in Washington what this could lead to?"

China yesterday called on the United States to "think twice" about its decision. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said the treaty has played an important role in advancing the disarmament process and maintaining global stability.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2018, with the headline 'Rising alarm over news of US exiting nuclear pact'. Print Edition | Subscribe