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Critics say U.S. withdrawal from INF could spark a new arms race with Russia

The U.S. announced Friday it's withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, due to Russia's alleged violation of its terms. Russia counters that the U.S. is the one breaking the pact. If the two countries can't come to an agreement, they risk backtracking on a deal that helped ease Cold War tensions. Nick Schifrin reports on whether the move could spark a new arms race.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, the Trump administration announced today that the U.S. would officially suspend participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, beginning tomorrow.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, that starts a six-month window for Russia and the U.S. to either make a last-minute deal or lose a landmark agreement that helped reduce Cold War tensions.

  • Ronald Reagan:

    For the first time in history, the language of arms control was replaced by arms reduction.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It was 1987, and President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev laid a cornerstone of nuclear arms reduction, a treaty that eliminated an entire class of U.S. and Soviet missiles.

  • Ronald Reagan:

    Today, on this vital issue at least, we have seen what can be accomplished when we pull together.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Both sides removed thousands of warheads and destroyed ground-launched missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.

    But for the last few years, the U.S. says Russia has developed and deployed this missile, on display last week in Moscow, that violates the treaty, and Russia refused U.S. requests to destroy it.

    Today, President Trump said, as long as Russia wasn't abiding by the treaty, neither would the U.S.

  • Donald Trump:

    Unless we're going to have something that we all agree to, we can't be put at the disadvantage of going by a treaty, limiting what we do, when somebody else doesn't go by that treaty.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the Russians say this American missile defense system in Romania could be modified to launch an offensive missile, and, therefore, the U.S. is the violator.

    Today, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the U.S. suspension a mistake.

  • Sergei Ryabkov:

    We think that the agreement is essential. It is within interests of our security and European security, and it would be irresponsible for one side to shatter it.

  • Federica Mogherini:

    Europe has been probably the one that has benefited the most.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, NATO backed the U.S. accusation against Russia, but some European officials, like E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, fear the start of a new arms race.

    From the late '70s through the late '80s, the Soviet Union and U.S. deployed mobile nuclear-tipped missiles to Europe. The INF eliminated them, and European officials say they don't want to turn back the clock.

  • Federica Mogherini:

    What we definitely don't want to see is our continent going back to being a battlefield or a place where other superpowers confront themselves. This belongs to a faraway history.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senior administration officials say they have no plans to acquire or deploy intermediate-range missiles to Europe, or anywhere else. But the Pentagon has a research and development program into new missiles ready to go, and a NATO official tells "PBS NewsHour" the U.S. has raised the idea of testing a new non-nuclear ground-launched cruise missile this year.

  • Thomas Countryman:

    I think that ultimately will cause some unnecessary friction with our best friends in the world. That is the allies in NATO.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Tom Countryman was the Obama administration's top arms control official. He says today's U.S. decision is a mistake, because it doesn't solve the problem: the Russian missile that violates the treaty and threatens Europe.

  • Thomas Countryman:

    It doesn't address the European security disadvantage created by the new Russian deployment, and, secondly, because it allows Russia to get out of this treaty that has served us and European interests well, while blaming the United States.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Russia's not the only country that fields intermediate-range missiles. U.S. officials say China and Iran each have more than 1,000 missiles that would violate the INF, if they were party to it, raising questions about the future of intermediate missiles and arms control.

    The U.S. is currently debating what to do about the New START treaty that limits the number of strategic nuclear weapons. U.S. officials predict a divide between National Security Adviser John Bolton, critical of arms control, and Pentagon officials, who favor extending New START.

    Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was only interested in extending the treaty if:

  • Mike Pompeo:

    It protects the American people, protects our allies around the world as well, and has provisions that other countries are both capable and willing to comply with, and allow us to verify that they have complied with those agreements. Absent that, it's just sitting around a table talking.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In 1987, years of talking allowed the two titans of the Cold War a little banter over an old Reagan line.

  • Ronald Reagan:

    The maxim is (SPEAKING RUSSIAN). Trust, but verify.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, the U.S. and Russia have little trust and won't let each other verify. And both countries are preparing for a future without the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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