January 25, 2019
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO and Russia failed on Friday to resolve a dispute over a new Russian missile that Western allies say is a threat to Europe, bringing closer Washington’s withdrawal from a landmark arms control treaty.
At a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels, envoys from NATO’s 29 members renewed their call on Moscow’s top diplomat to the alliance to destroy a nuclear-capable cruise missile system before a Feb. 2 deadline.
Without a breakthrough, the United States is set to start the six-month process of pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), having notified it would do so in early December and accusing Moscow of breaching it.
Russia denies violating the terms of the treaty.
“The treaty is in real jeopardy,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. “The sooner Russia comes back into compliance, the better. The treaty has no value if it is not respected, the problem are the Russian missiles in Europe,” he told a news conference after the meeting.
While Stoltenberg described the meeting as professional, he said Russia had shown no willingness to compromise. But he and some European nations such as Germany held out hope for diplomatic progress during the six-month withdrawal process.
Russia, the United States, France, Britain and China – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – are due to meet in Beijing on Jan. 30 to discuss arms control, diplomats told Reuters. But it was not clear if the INF treaty would be on the agenda.
Russia stands accused of developing land-based, intermediate-range cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting European cities at short notice, breaching the Cold War-era pact that took such rockets out of Europe.
But the Kremlin, which this week displayed its missiles to foreign military attaches in Moscow, says the missiles’ short range puts it outside the INF treaty. It says the Novator 9M729/SSC-8 rockets have a maximum range of 480 km (298 miles).
U.S. officials said there was no way of verifying that information because the missiles have only been shown publicly in a “static display” that gives no indication of their flying distance.
The 1987 treaty requires the United States and Russia “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310-3,420 miles) “or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles”.
In the latest bout of East-West tensions, which have deepened Russia’s international isolation, Russia accuses the United States of inventing a false pretext to abandon a treaty that it wants to leave anyway so as to develop new missiles.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Gareth Jones)