MOSCOW (Reuters) – Washington is pressing ahead with its plan to quit a nuclear arms control pact, senior U.S. official John Bolton said on Tuesday, signaling that a meeting with Russian leader President Vladimir Putin had not deflected the White House from its plan.
Bolton had a 90-minute meeting in the Kremlin with Putin, at which the Russian leader had taken the White House to task over what he said were a series of unprovoked steps against Moscow.
Russia has said that if U.S. President Donald Trump makes good his threat to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), Moscow will be forced to respond in kind to restore the military balance.
But speaking at a news conference after his talks with Putin, Bolton, who is national security advisor to Trump, gave no indication of any change of course on the INF treaty.
“There’s a new strategic reality out there,” Bolton said, saying that a Cold War-era treaty no longer met the demands of the world as it is now.
“In terms of filing the formal notice of withdrawal, that has not been filed but it will be filed in due course.”
Earlier, in opening remarks at his meeting with Bolton, Putin had made an acerbic reference to the U.S. coat of arms.
“We barely respond to any of your steps but they keep on coming,” Putin told Bolton.
“On the coat of the arms of the United States there’s an eagle holding 13 arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other. My question is whether your eagle has gobbled up all the olives leaving only the arrows?”
Bolton, who told Putin he hoped to be able to address some of Putin’s concerns about the troubled state of U.S.-Russia relations, quipped that he had not brought any olives.
Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov, speaking to reporters after the talks finished, sounded a conciliatory note, saying that Moscow viewed Bolton’s visit as a sign Washington wanted to continue dialogue on the issue. He said Moscow wanted the same thing.
Bolton and Putin came to a preliminary agreement that the U.S. and Russian leaders will have a bilateral meeting in Paris on Nov. 11, on the sidelines of events to commemorate the end of World War One.
Signed by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, the INF treaty required the elimination of all short- and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles held by both countries in Europe.
Its demise could raise the prospect of a new arms race and of Europe once again hosting U.S. land-based ballistic and cruise missiles.
Gorbachev, now 87, has warned that unraveling it could have catastrophic consequences. Countries such as Poland have, however, backed Trump’s move.
Bolton has said he thinks the treaty is outdated because it does not cover countries such as China, Iran and North Korea which he says remain free to make intermediate-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.
Additional reporting by Polina Nikolskaya, Katya Golubkova and Polina Devitt in Moscow, Paul Carrel and Hans-Edzard Busemann in Berlin, Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Sobczak in Warsaw, and by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Alison Williams