WORLD Moscow open to INF dis­cus­sions

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MOSCOW — Moscow’s pro­pos­als to dis­cuss is­sues re­lated to the In­ter­me­di­at­eRange Nu­clear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) with the United States re­main on the ta­ble, Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry Spokes­woman Maria Zakharova told re­porters at a press brief­ing yes­ter­day, com­ment­ing on the ul­ti­ma­tum on the treaty put for­ward by the US and NATO.

On Tues­day, US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo an­nounced at a meet­ing of the NATO mem­ber-states’ top diplo­mats in Brus­sels that his coun­try would launch the pro­ce­dure of pulling out of the INF Treaty, if Rus­sia did not re­turn to com­pli­ance with the treaty within 60 days and did not elim­i­nate the pro­gram to cre­ate mis­sile sys­tems, which, ac­cord­ing to Wash­ing­ton, went be­yond the scope of the agree­ment.

For their part, all 29 NATO mem­ber-coun­tries signed a dec­la­ra­tion ex­press­ing their full sup­port for the United States’ ac­tions. Moscow has flatly re­jected Wash­ing­ton’s ac­cu­sa­tions.

“We [Rus­sia] are ready to con­tinue the di­a­logue in ap­pro­pri­ate for­mats on the en­tire range of prob­lems re­lated to this doc­u­ment on the ba­sis of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and mu­tual re­spect, with­out putting for­ward un­sub­stan­ti­ated ac­cu­sa­tions and ul­ti­ma­tums. Our pro­pos­als are well known and re­main on the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble,” she said.

The diplo­mat said Rus­sia has started con­sid­er­ing the US and NATO state­ment on with­draw­ing from the INF Treaty in 60 days.

“We have ad­mit­ted th­ese doc­u­ments for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion. This text again in­cludes ac­cu­sa­tions in the form of un­founded and un­sub­stan­ti­ated in­for­ma­tion about Rus­sia’s al­leged vi­o­la­tions of this deal,” Zakharova said.

The diplo­mat noted that Rus­sia has re­peat­edly stated that th­ese are un­founded ac­cu­sa­tions, and no ev­i­dence had been pro­vided to con­firm the US stance. “If they [doc­u­ments] have been pro­vided by the US side to NATO mem­ber-states, why does the US hide them from Rus­sia?” she said.

EU diplo­matic chief Federica Mogherini yes­ter­day urged Rus­sia and the US to save a Cold War arms con­trol treaty af­ter Wash- in­g­ton is­sued a 60-day ul­ti­ma­tum to Moscow.

Mogherini pleaded for the treaty to be saved, warn­ing that Europe did not want to be­come a bat­tle­field for global pow­ers once again, as it had been dur­ing the Cold War.

“The INF has guar­an­teed peace and se­cu­rity in Euro­pean ter­ri­tory for 30 years now,” Mogherini said as she ar­rived for talks with NATO for­eign min­is­ters.

“It has to be fully im­ple­mented, so I hope that the time that is there to work on pre­serv­ing the treaty and achiev­ing its full im­ple­men­ta­tion can be used wisely from all sides, and we will def­i­nitely try to make our part to make sure this hap­pens.”

US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo on Tues­day warned Rus­sia that if it did not dis­man­tle its 9M279 mo­bile ground- launched mis­sile sys­tem, Wash­ing­ton would no longer be bound by the treaty.

NATO and the US say the 9M279 — also known by the des­ig­na­tion SSC-8 — vi­o­lates the INF treaty, which banned ground- launched mis­siles with a range of be­tween 500 and 5,500km.

The nu­clear- ca­pa­ble Rus­sian mis­siles are mo­bile and hard to de­tect and can hit cities in Europe with lit­tle or no warn­ing, ac­cord­ing to NATO, dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing the se­cu­rity cal­cu­lus on the con­ti­nent.

NATO for­eign min­is­ters is­sued a joint state­ment putting the onus squarely on Rus­sia to save the INF, say­ing the US had re­mained “in full com­pli­ance”.

Over the past five years, Wash­ing­ton has raised its con­cerns over the Rus­sian mis­siles at least 30 times, Pom­peo said, only to be met with de­nials, ob­fus­ca­tion and spu­ri­ous counter-claims from Moscow.

The 60-day grace pe­riod — granted by the US as a con­ces­sion to Euro­pean part­ners who wanted to give Moscow a last chance — will ex­pire at a meet­ing of NATO de­fence min­is­ters in Fe­bru­ary.

The INF treaty, signed by US pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev, ended a dan­ger­ous build- up of nu­clear weapons trig­gered by Moscow’s de­ploy­ment of SS- 20 mis­siles tar­get­ing Western Euro­pean cap­i­tals. — TASS/AFP

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