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Russia, US suspend nuclear treaty in a diplomatic standoff sparking jitters over a new arms race

Key Points
  • Both the U.S. and Russia have suspended a crucial nuclear weapons ban on Saturday.
  • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty, prohibits the production or testing of ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.
  • The INF treaty has kept nuclear-tipped cruise missiles off the European continent for three decades.
US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP |Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The United States and Russia suspended a crucial nuclear weapons treaty on Saturday, a move that has sparked concerns of a budding arms race between the world's two biggest nuclear powers.

Withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Russia 60 days to come back into compliance with the terms of the nuclear weapons pact. Pompeo added that the process could be reversed if Russia came back into compliance.

"Russia has not taken the necessary steps to return to compliance over the last 60 days," Pompeo said in a statement. "It remains in material breach of its obligations not to produce, possess, or flight-test a ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile system with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers."

He added: "The United States has gone to tremendous lengths to preserve the INF Treaty, engaging with Russian officials more than 30 times in nearly six years to discuss Russia's violation, including at the highest levels of government."

Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains that Moscow has not violated the treaty, but will start developing new missiles in the wake of the INF's suspension.

"The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well," Putin said Saturday, during a televised meeting with foreign and defense ministers, according to Reuters. Putin also said that he would not deploy weapons to Europe and other regions unless the U.S. did so.

Russian  President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi on September 13, 2012.
Alexey Druzhinin | AFP |Getty Images

The INF treaty, signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, prohibited the development and deployment of ground-launched nuclear missiles with ranges of 310 miles to 3,420 miles. The agreement forced each country to dismantle more than 2,500 projectiles, and kept nuclear-tipped cruise missiles off the European continent for three decades.

In October, Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from the Cold War-era pact, and sent national security advisor John Bolton to personally deliver the decision to the Kremlin. Russia, Trump said, has violated the arms agreement by building and fielding the banned weapons "for many years."

NATO has also called on Moscow to "return urgently to full and verifiable compliance." "It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty," NATO foreign ministers said in a joint statement.

"Withdrawing without exhausting all available diplomatic options to resolve the compliance dispute makes it more difficult for Washington to control the narrative around the collapse of the treaty, and allows Russia to pursue the development and deployment of intermediate-range systems without restriction," Abigail Stowe-Thurston, a researcher at the Federation of American Scientists, told CNBC.

"Now that the administration is following through on its decision to withdraw, it is Congress's responsibility to decide whether to fund the development and deployment of similar systems," she added.