Bolton Rejects Criticism of Decision to Leave INF, Says Russia Has Violated Deal for Six Years

Says Russia, China taking advantage of deal

John Bolton
John Bolton / Getty Images

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Wednesday pushed back against criticism of the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from a bilateral nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, noting the Kremlin has been in breach of the agreement for at least six years.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Alexander Hamilton Society in Washington, Bolton echoed President Trump's assertion that  due to Russia's repeated violations the only country bound by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, is the United States. While considered a critical step in diffusing the Cold War at the time of its signing, Bolton accused Russia and adversaries like China of taking advantage of the deal.

"We're at a point in terms of Russian violations where the president has decided to get out of the treaty and people have said, ‘Oh my goodness, can't you just try to bring the Russians back into compliance?'" Bolton said.

"Well, let's review the bidding on that diplomatically: The American position is that the Russians are in violation of the treaty, the Russian position is they're not in violation of the treaty. So how do you bring the Russians back into compliance when they don't think they're out of compliance to begin with?"

Bolton said Trump was likely to speak briefly about the decision to leave the INF with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 11 when the two leaders meet in Paris. Trump first announced the withdrawal earlier this month.

The Russian government has said it would be forced to take symmetrical measures if the United States follows through on Trump's threat to develop new missiles. Critics of Trump's decision, including the European Union, warn a U.S. withdrawal could provoke a nuclear arms race.

The future of the INF has been in question since 2014, when the Obama administration first charged that Moscow breached the treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile.

"The response by the Obama administration was zero, so what encouragement does that give to our adversaries? It says, ‘cheat and succeed,' ‘don't enter into treaties with the United States and succeed.'" Bolton said. "What we're going to say is if you're in a treaty with the United States, we're going to abide by it … and anybody else who want to sign a treaty with the United States is going to adhere to it, or there will be consequences."