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Trump Plans To Pull Out Of Cold-War Nuclear Arms Treaty With Russia


How could the world be different once a nuclear treaty signed by President Reagan goes away? President Trump says the United States will withdraw from a decades-old treaty that kept the U.S. and Russia from possessing certain missiles.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to. We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement, and we've honored the agreement. But Russia has not unfortunately honored the agreement, so we're going to terminate the agreement. We're going to pull out.

INSKEEP: This is the president's way of addressing a problem that his predecessor called out. President Obama's administration accused Russia of testing banned missiles in 2014. Now, the U.S. stopped short of withdrawing from the treaty then because European allies still favored it. This deal banned medium-range missiles that were especially perilous in Europe. But Britain supports the Trump administration move now. What do Russians think? Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner is going to give us some insight. He hosts a program called "Pozner" that is distributed on state-owned Channel One. Welcome back to the program, sir.

VLADIMIR POZNER: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: What does it matter that this treaty ends?

POZNER: Well, I think there are two ways of looking at it. In the first place, it's kind of, like, the dismantling of all the different treaties that were signed during the Gorbachev-Reagan era and a little bit after that. It looks like this is all falling apart, and these were very, very important treaties. This particular one, which banned and eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, both short-range and intermediate-range - and by 1991, over 2,500 of these missiles had been eliminated. Now this is - you know, it's a very important thing psychologically. And realistically, it is. It was a hard treaty to achieve. It took over 15 years. And now to just turn your back on it supposedly because the Russians aren't honoring it - and of course the Russians are saying that the Americans aren't honoring it. And in my opinion, that's a demonstration on both sides of maybe not caring about that treaty, which, in my opinion, is an extremely important one.

INSKEEP: Well, that's an interesting point because there's the question about whether Russia is particularly interested in this treaty, which we'll ask about in a moment. But I want to ask about the violations as well. It's easy to note that President Trump is suspicious of international agreements and has pulled out of a number of them. But in this case, President Obama's administration called out missile testing by Russia that was said to be in violation. And Britain seems to be on the Trump administration side as well here. Is there any doubt about that?

POZNER: Well, in my opinion, I wouldn't take the Brits too seriously. And this, you know, accusation of breaking the rules of the treaty - look, quite frankly, I don't have the possibility to say yes or no to either side, to the Russians or to the Americans. I can't say whether or not they have, either of them. And they seem to be accusing each other whether they have indeed broken the rules of the treaty. But it seems to me that instead of announcing that you're going to pull out of it, it would be a better idea to say, let's sit down and look at this very carefully and see if we want to preserve it. And I believe that John Bolton right now is here in Moscow speaking to President Putin about this. So my hope is that at the end of the day, they will have found a way to preserve what I already called a very important treaty.

INSKEEP: John Bolton, of course, the national security adviser. He's been suspicious of arms control agreements in the past. And now we find out what happens with this particular one. Is there a reason, as you suggested there might be earlier, that Vladimir Putin might not be a particular fan of this agreement, either? The Trump administration has pointed out that it involves the United States and Russia, the world's two pre-eminent nuclear powers. But there's this other country, China, that's not included in it and that has been ramping up its military.


TRUMP: Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say, let's really get smart and let's none of us develop those weapons - but if Russia's doing it and if China's doing it and we're adhering to the agreement, that's unacceptable.

INSKEEP: That's President Trump's view. Might Vladimir Putin, President Putin, sympathize with that somewhat?

POZNER: Well, he's not going to sympathize with let them all come to us as if - again, the United States is the most important partner in all of this. This is an equal deal kind of thing, but I do believe that President Putin would support the idea of enlarging the treaty and having China join it. Today China is an important nuclear power, and the treaty would only be stronger if China were part of it. But destroying that treaty, I think, makes it more dangerous for everyone, the United States and Russia and of course China as well.

INSKEEP: Does Russia have any interest or, for that matter, means to expand its already quite massive nuclear arsenal?

POZNER: Well, you're asking me a question I can't answer. I suppose that you can expand it. You know, it depends how much you want to spend and how much of your national resources you want to put into that. And you can just go on expanding, but that was something that happened once upon a time. And the result was a disaster for the Soviet Union. So I don't think Russia is going to do that.

INSKEEP: Well, I mean, I guess there is the question - you don't know what is in the mind of the president, but you know the health of the Russian economy and some idea of what resources the state has. And...

POZNER: Well, the Russian economy now is I would say in a rather difficult position. The sanctions have certainly hurt the Russian economy, but I would make one point. The Russians are very tough when things get tough. They're a nation that has gone through some extremely difficult periods, much more so, by the way, than the United States. And when things are really tough, the nation stands up to it. It's when things are good actually that this country is weaker, believe it or not.

INSKEEP: Journalist Vladimir Pozner in Moscow. Thanks very much.

POZNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.