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INF treaty compliance issues should be solved at presidential level — US expert

WASHINGTON, October 5. /TASS/. At the current stage, Moscow and Washington’s mutual accusations of non-compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty need to be addressed at the presidential level, a leading US expert told TASS on Thursday.

Time for presidential action

"Both the United States and Russia say they support and want to preserve the INF Treaty but neither are doing what it takes to resolve their compliance dispute over Russian testing and deployment of a missile system the 9M729 that exceeds the 500km range limit set by the INF Treaty. Complicating matters further, the Trump administration is pursuing a response to Russia’s violation that includes the development of our own treaty-prohibited missile," Executive Director of the Arms Control Association Daryl Kimball told TASS.

"Efforts to address the reciprocal accusations through the treaty’s dispute mechanism - the Special Verification Commission - have done little to resolve either side’s concerns," he went on. "This is the moment when Trump and Putin need to provide a political impetus to those stalled expert discussions."

The US expert added that the problems are "technically complex, but they can be resolved."

Inspections and confidence-building measures

"US and Russian experts agree that in order to break the impasse, both sides need to acknowledge the concerns of the other side and should agree to reciprocal site visits by experts to examine the missiles and the deployment sites in dispute," Kimball said.

Speaking about the consent among experts, Kimball referred to the joint statement, adopted by the trilateral Russian-German-US expert commission to study nuclear disarmament problems, which convened in Moscow in April. Among the commission’s members were leading Russian experts Alexei Arbatov and Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin (Ret.), as well as former US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Germany’s ex-defense minister Volker Ruhe.

Kimball’s proposal

Speaking about ways to overcome the existing problem, Kimball suggested reciprocal steps by Moscow and Washington to ease each other’s concerns.

"If the 9M729 missile is determined to have a range that exceeds 500 km, Russia could modify the missile to ensure it no longer violates the treaty or, ideally, halt production and eliminate any such missiles in its possession," he said. "For its part, the United States could modify its missile defense launchers to clearly distinguish them from the launchers used to fire offensive missiles from U.S. warships or agree to transparency measures that give Russia confidence the launchers don’t contain offensive missiles."

The US expert concluded that "such an arrangement would address the concerns of both sides and restore compliance with the treaty without Russia having to acknowledge its original violation of the treaty."

Potential US response

Another expert, Hans Kristensen, who heads the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said US the government has been "reviewing a range of potential options to respond to the Russian INF violation" since 2015.

"The details are classified but public statements by government officials indicate that they range from increasing economic pressure on Russia, to tweaking the existing posture to target deployed 9M729 launchers, strengthening deployment of long-range version of the JASSM conventional air-launched cruise missile, and development of conventional ground-launched systems," the US expert said.

Moreover, Kristensen underscored that the US Nuclear Posture Review explicitly described pursuit of a new dual-capable sea-launched cruise missile as linked to the Russia INF violation. Besides, the Trump administration is also "reassessing the future" of the New START treaty in the light of the alleged Russian violations of the INF and other agreements.

"At the same time, the US government is so far insisting that it intends - for now - to stay in compliance with the INF," the US expert said. "So deployment of a newly developed ground-launched system would require a new decision."

INF treaty issue

The INF Treaty was signed in Washington on December 8, 1987, and took effect on June 1, 1988. The INF Treaty eliminated operational and non-operational medium range (1,000-5,500 kilometers) and shorter range (500-1,000 kilometers) ground-launched missiles. By June 1991, the Soviet Union had eliminated 1,846 missiles, while the United States rolled back its arsenal to 846. That said, inspections ended in May 2001.

In 2014, the United States accused Russia of developing a missile with an operational range of 500 to 5,500 km. In 2017, US media outlets reported that the missile was codenamed 9M729 (NATO reporting name: SSC-8). Since then, the US has repeated this claim more than once. Russia strongly dismissed it and struck back at the US with counterclaims that America had violated the deal.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said after talks with his NATO counterparts in Brussels on Thursday that it was time for Russia "to return to compliance," or face consequences. "The United States is reviewing options in our diplomacy and defense posture to do just that in concert with our allies, as always," he added.