World News

Washington denies it plans to quit nuclear test ban treaty

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States, which plans to exit a major arms control agreement later this week, denied a Russian accusation on Tuesday that it was also planning to quit the international treaty that bans the testing of nuclear weapons.

FILE PHOTO - National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

A Russian envoy told a disarmament conference in Geneva that Washington intended to quit the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on the pretext that Moscow was violating it first.

“It would appear that through propaganda around false claims about Russia’s compliance there are attempts to prepare international opinion for a U.S. exit from the CTBT and then to blame Russia again for everything,” Russia’s deputy envoy in Geneva, Andrey Belousov, told the Conference on Disarmament.

Washington called the suggestion “crafty, Soviet-like propaganda”.

The United States has signed but not ratified the CTBT. It complies with the treaty’s prohibition on nuclear explosions by observing a unilateral moratorium on testing, which U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has said will continue.

Belousov was speaking days before the deadline for a U.S. withdrawal from another nuclear pact, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

The United States is set to pull out of the INF accord on Aug. 2, saying it needs to develop its own warheads to deter Moscow. Russia says it is fully compliant and blames Washington for orchestrating the U.S. withdrawal.

“I can say quite firmly that that kind of trick will not work again,” Belousov said.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood said Russia’s record of violating treaties was a well-established pattern.

“I have to respond to the sort of crafty, Soviet-like propaganda that was espoused earlier during the session by our Russian colleague,” Wood said. “We’ve made very clear that we will abide by our nuclear testing moratorium.”

The United States and its NATO allies say that in order to comply with the INF treaty, Russia needs to destroy its SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile, which Washington says violates the treaty ban on land-based missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km (300-3,400 miles).

Wood said it was entirely up to Russia whether U.S. withdrawal went ahead on Aug. 2, but Russia had made very clear that it had no intention to take the steps Washington demands.

“We see no reason to believe that Russia is going to come back into compliance,” he told Reuters. “They need to decide whether they want to get back into the existing arms control architecture or not. It’s really up to them.”

Belousov said Washington was aiming for an unlimited increase in strategic potential, including offensive nuclear capacity and defensive missile defence components.

“The USA is thus seeking to gain an enormous military advantage over its military, political and economic rivals,” Belousov said.

“We may be on the eve of a new era when all of the previous achievements of arms control and non proliferation are set back to zero,” he said, adding that it was difficult to censure U.S. behaviour because of its allies’ support.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by William Maclean, Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff