US signals policy decision soon on Russian violation of arms treaty


WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis signalled on Friday Washington might soon decide how to respond to what it says are Russian violations of a Cold War-era arms control agreement, saying the United States was conferring with allies.
Washington and Moscow have long questioned each other’s commitment to the INF treaty, which banned nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500-5,500 km.
The United States has accused Moscow of developing and fielding a ground-launched cruise missile, in violation of its INF Treaty obligations.
Vice Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Paul Selva said in March that the Russian system presented a risk to most US facilities in Europe. Russia denies violating the treaty.
Jim Mattis, on his first trip to London since taking the Pentagon’s top job, said President Donald Trump’s administration was still formulating policy on the matter.
“On the INF issue, we’re in consultation with our allies and we are still formulating a way ahead.
In fact, it will be addressed, I think, very, very soon as a matter of highest-level concern,” Mattis told a joint news conference in London with British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
Fallon acknowledged the INF treaty came up in his discussions on Friday with Mattis and said the matter should also be taken up by Nato.
“We look forward to the more formal response from the United States and we do think that is something that needs to be taken forward — not just by the United States but by Nato generally, once we have those violations confirmed,”
Fallon said. Neither Mattis nor Fallon elaborated.
In the US, such compliance issues are usually handled by the State Department.
The top US military commander in Europe, General Curtis Scaparrotti, told Congress this week the United States should respond, but acknowledged it was a matter for policymakers in the Trump administration.
“We have to respond to their violation of that treaty, one way or the other. We have to take steps we have to address it. But it is a policy matter,” he said in testimony to a committee on March 28.
Mattis also renewed US concerns about Russian behaviour, citing its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and accused it of “mucking around inside other peoples’ elections”.
US intelligence agencies say Moscow hacked and leaked Democratic Party e-mails during the US presidential campaign as part of efforts to tilt the vote in the November 8 election in Trump’s favour.
Russia denies such activity.
“So I think the point I would make is that Nato stands united, the trans-Atlantic bond is united,” Mattis said.
Trump on Friday supported the decision of his former national security adviser to seek immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony in congressional probes of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Retired General Michael Flynn wants protection against “unfair prosecution” if he testifies before the intelligence committees of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, his lawyer, Robert Kelner, said.
“Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” Trump wrote in a tweet.
Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it was too soon to discuss immunity for Flynn.
A government official with direct knowledge of the case said that lawyers for Flynn raised the immunity request roughly 10 days ago with representatives of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Officials told them the committee was not interested in any immunity discussions at that time.
Testimony from Flynn could help shed light on the conversations he had last year with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States, while national security adviser for Trump’s presidential campaign.
— Reuters