Trump says US is ending decades-old nuclear arms treaty with Russia

President Donald Trump announced Saturday that the US is pulling out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, a decades-old agreement that has drawn the ire of the President.

“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One to leave Nevada following a campaign rally.

“And I don’t know why President Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” he said. “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 gonna pull out,” he said of the agreement, which was signed in December 1987 by former President Ronald Reagan and former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Following the announcement, Russia’s state-run news agency, RIA Novosti, reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to discuss the decision with US national security adviser John Bolton when he visits Russia this week.

According to the report, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said, “It’s likely that an explanation from the US will be required following the latest scandalous statements.”

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty?

The treaty forced both countries to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between approximately 300 and 3,400 miles. It offered a blanket of protection to the United States’ European allies and marked a watershed agreement between two nations at the center of the arms race during the Cold War.

Former State Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, a CNN military and diplomatic analyst, explained that the treaty “wasn’t designed to solve all of our problems with the Soviet Union,” but was “designed to provide a measure of some strategic stability on the continent of Europe.”

“I suspect our European allies right now are none too happy about hearing that President Trump intends to pull out of it,” he said.

Why leave the agreement now?

The Trump Administration has said repeatedlythat Russia has violated the treaty and has pointed to their predecessors in the Obama administration who accused Russia of violating the terms of the agreement.

In 2014, CNN reported that the US had accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty, citing cruise missile tests that dated to 2008. CNN reported in 2014 that the United States at the time informed its NATO allies of Russia’s suspected breach.

However, it wasn’t until recently that NATO officially confirmed Russia’s activity constituted a likely violation.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month that the military alliance remained “concerned about Russia’s lack of respect for its international commitments, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF Treaty.”

“This treaty abolishes a whole category of weapons and is a crucial element of our security,” Stoltenberg said, speaking at a defense ministers’ meeting. “Now this treaty is in danger because of Russia’s actions.”

He continued, “After years of denials, Russia recently acknowledged the existence of a new missile system, called 9M729. Russia has not provided any credible answers on this new missile. All allies agree that the most plausible assessment would be that Russia is in violation of the treaty. It is therefore urgent that Russia addresses these concerns in a substantial and transparent manner.”

Moscow’s failure to adhere to the agreement was also addressed in the most recent Nuclear Posture Review published by the Defense Department in February, which said Russia “continues to violate a series of arms control treaties and commitments.”

“In a broader context, Russia is either rejecting or avoiding its obligations and commitments under numerous agreements and has rebuffed U.S. efforts to follow the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with another round of negotiated reductions and to pursue reductions in non-strategic nuclear forces.”

What does this mean for US security?

Pulling out of the treaty could provoke a similar arms race across Europe akin to the one that was occurring when the agreement was initially signed in the 1980s.

“I don’t think we’re at the stage right now that if we pull out of the INF Treaty, you’ve got to go sort of build a bunker in your backyard,” Kirby said.

“I don’t think we’re at that stage at all,” he said. “But I do think, if we pull out, we really do need to think about how we are going to, right now because we don’t have the same capability as the Russians have with this particular missile. How are we going to try and counter that? How are we going to try and help deter use of it on the continent of Europe?”

How does China work in all of this?

Administration officials believe the treaty has put the US at a disadvantage because China does not face any constraints on developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the Pacific and it does not allow the US to develop new weapons.

Trump, speaking with reporters on Saturday, referenced China when explaining his reasoning for pulling out of the agreement.

“Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and 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,” Trump said.

In 2017, the head of US Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, told Congress that approximately 95% of China’s missile force would violate the INF Treaty if they were part of the agreement.

“This fact is significant because the U.S. has no comparable capability due to our adherence to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia,” Harris said in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

National security adviser John Bolton is expected to discuss the treaty with Russian officials on his trip to Moscow next week.

Kirby said he thinks the Russians will be OK with the decision.

“This gives Putin an excuse to just continue doing what he’s doing, only doing it more blatantly,” Kirby said.

Outspoken Russian senator Alexey Pushkov tweeted Sunday that the “United States is bringing the world back to the Cold War” in reaction to Trump’s decision, which he called a “massive blow to the entire system of strategic stability in the world.”

Senior Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev warned on his Facebook page that “the consequences would be truly catastrophic.” However, he said it’s not official that the US has pulled out of the INF, saying “it’s still possible to consider Trump’s statement as continuous blackmail rather than a completed legal act.”

[CNN]

National Security Council Chief Of Staff To Leave WH, Lead Anti-Muslim Hate Group

National Security Adviser John Bolton’s chief of staff Fred Fleitz is leaving after just a few months on the job, CNN confirmed Monday

“Fred Fleitz is a longtime friend and adviser. He’s been a valuable member of the National Security Council team. I wish him the best with his next endeavor,” Bolton told CNN.

Fleitz, a longtime Bolton associate, joined the Trump administration in May after working for five years at the Center for Security Policy, an Islamaphobic group run by Frank Gaffney. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers CSP a “hate group.” Fleitz joined Gaffney and others from CSP in March 2016 when they went to work on Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) presidential campaign.

According to CSP, Fleitz will take over for Gaffney as the group’s President and CEO in January 2019. Yet he will begin the leadership transition in just a few days, on Nov. 1 — a day after he leaves the White House, an unnamed administration official told CNN. Gaffney, the group said, will become executive chairman.

In 2017, per CNN, Fleitz complained that CSP had only been placed on the SPLC’s list of hate groupsdue to our principled stand against the Global Jihad Movement.”

[Talking Points Memo]

John Bolton Threatens Sanctions for ‘Illegitimate’ International Criminal Court: ‘Already Dead to Us’

National Security Advisor John Bolton delivered his expected condemnation of the International Criminal Court on Monday, vowing to bring sanctions against the organization if it continues to investigate American activity in the Middle East.

As Bolton spoke before the Federalist Society, he promised retaliation for the ICC’s “unjust prosecution” of alleged war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He called the organization a threat to American national security, saying it “claims authority separate from, and above, the Constitution of the United States. It is antithetical to our nation’s ideals.”

“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC,” said Bolton. “We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

The speech continued with Bolton describing the ICC as an “illegitimate” investigative body that failed to adequately prosecute illegal activity abroad despite its “dangerous” levels of unchecked accountability. He said the U.S. will ban the ICC’s court judges from the country and enforce sanctions against any nation cooperating with them if they continue to prosecute America or its allies.

“We will take the following steps, among others, in accordance with the American Service-Members’ Protection Act and our other legal authorities. We will negotiate even more binding bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering U.S. persons to the ICC,” said Bolton. “We will do the same for any company or state that assists in ICC investigation of Americans. We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the U.S. and its allies, and we will remember that cooperation.”

[Mediaite]

Trump officials to announce closure of Palestine Liberation Organization office in DC

National security adviser John Bolton is expected to announce Monday that the U.S. will shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington, D.C., The Wall Street Journal reported.

“The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” Bolton is expected to say, according to a draft of his speech reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Bolton will reportedly threaten the International Criminal Court with sanctions if it carries out investigations into the U.S. and Israel.

The action against the PLO, which serves as the main entity representing the Palestinian people, comes as the Trump administration takes a harsher stance toward Palestinians amid ongoing Middle East peace negotiations.

The State Department announced late last month that the U.S. will cut more than $200 million in economic aid for Palestinians and direct the money toward other projects. A State Department official said the decision was made “at the direction of President Trump” to ensure the money is spent “in accordance with U.S. national interests and [will] provide value to the U.S. taxpayer.”

The decision could heighten tensions between the U.S. and Palestinian leaders, who already cut off communications in peace negotiations after Trump announced the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be relocated to Jerusalem.

The White House, led by senior adviser Jared Kushner, has yet to release its long-awaited Middle East peace plan involving Israel and the Palestinians.

[The Hill]

John Bolton ousts well-regarded national security official who clashed with Stephen Miller

President Donald Trump has lost another top administration official as hard-liner’s consolidate their grip in the West Wing, Politico reported Friday.

Jennifer Arangio, a former senior director in the National Security Counsil, was “let go” and “escorted off the premises” according to Politico’s sources.

“We don’t comment on personnel,” a NSC spokesperson said.

Since John Bolton took over as National Security Advisor, the NSC has also seen the departures of chief of staff Keith Kellogg, homeland security advisor Tom Bossert, spokesman Michael Anton, and Middle East section officials Joel Rayburn and Michael Bell.

“The former White House official said Arangio’s just-the-facts approach put her at odds with top Trump aide Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, and others involved with the Domestic Policy Council, especially on the issue of refugees,” Politico reported. “Arangio also has had some friction with Mira Ricardel, Bolton’s hard-edged deputy, according to the former NSC official and the former White House official.”

“She has fought to correct misleading information about refugees and migrants provided to the president by Miller and the DPC,” the former White House official explained.

President Trump has claimed to have the “best people” but has seen “record-breaking staff churn.”

[Raw Story]

John Bolton caught using a ‘shadow’ council to funnel new personnel into the White House

Donald Trump’s third national security adviser John Bolton has a group of associates outside the White House some call the “shadow” National Security Council for their influential role in shaping the adviser’s operations within the administration.

The New York Times reported Monday that Bolton’s “shadow NSC” includes Charles M. Kupperman, a former official in the Ronald Reagan administration that currently holds a temporary leadership position on the council. Three other Bolton associates — Frederick H. Fleitz, Sarah Tinsley and David Wurmser — are also in consideration for jobs on the NSC as well.

After being hired in March to replace H.R. McMaster, Bolton, the Times noted, “engaged in his own speeded-up transition process” with the help of his outside advisers. They work out of downtown D.C. offices associated with the adviser’s various conservative political organizations, and help provide advice on the NSC’s operations as well as assisting in vetting “prospective new hires for views that would be compatible with his own.”

Bolton’s use of temporary and informal advisers “has raised concerns among government watchdog organizations and N.S.C. veterans and scholars, who say it raises questions of conflicts of interest, and creates an echo chamber of identical views with little room for dissent at the agency charged with coordinating policy throughout the government’s military, foreign policy and intelligence communities and synthesizing the best advice for the president.”

One such associate is Matthew C. Freedman, a conservative operative Bolton met in the 1980’s considered to be the most influential of all the “shadow NSC” members.

“After his early foray in government,” the Timesreported, “Mr. Freedman went on to become a foreign lobbyist working with Paul Manafort in the 1980s and 1990s for sometimes unsavory but well-paying foreign leaders, including Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippine strongman.”

Freedman also worked on the Trump transition team, but was kicked off after he used an email address from one of his lobbying jobs to conduct government business. He interviewed potential NSC hires from one of Bolton’s DC offices, and has reportedly been a driving factor behind massive firings at the NSC since Bolton took over as national security adviser — an allegation Freedman denies.

[Raw Story]

Trump eliminates job of national cybersecurity coordinator

President Donald Trump eliminated the job of the nation’s cybersecurity czar on Tuesday, and Democratic lawmakers immediately introduced legislation to restore it.

Trump signed an executive order rearranging the federal information technology infrastructure that includes no mention of the White House cybersecurity coordinator or of a replacement for Rob Joyce, who said last month that he is leaving the position to return to the National Security Agency, where he previously directed cyberdefense programs.

“Today’s actions continue an effort to empower National Security Council senior directors,” the National Security Council said in a statement, according to Reuters. “Streamlining management will improve efficiency, reduce bureaucracy and increase accountability.”

Politico first reported the elimination of the job on Tuesday. The White House and the National Security Council didn’t reply to requests for comment about the decision, which came on the same day a major computer security report again found government systems to be the least secure among all industries.

John Bolton, Trump’s new national security adviser, has widely been reported to have sought to eliminate the job as part of a top-to-bottom reorganization of the National Security Council. Joyce and his predecessors reported to the president; the senior NSC directors report to Bolton.

Top Democrats on Capitol Hill reacted harshly to the decision. In a statement, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized Bolton for “already wreaking havoc on the National Security Council.”

[NBC News]

Bolton: U.S. sanctions ‘possible’ on European firms over Iran

White House National Security adviser John Bolton on Sunday said U.S. sanctions on European companies that do business with Iran were “possible, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he remained hopeful Washington and its allies could strike a new nuclear deal with Tehran.

Bolton’s comments, in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union, struck a more hawkish note than Pompeo’s, who was interviewed on “Fox News Sunday.”

U.S. President Donald Trump on May 8 announced that the United States was withdrawing from a 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

So far, China, France, Russia, the U.K., EU and Iran remain in the accord, which placed controls on Iran’s nuclear program and led to a relaxation of American economic sanctions against Iran and companies doing business there.

Bolton, asked whether the United States might impose sanctions on European companies that continue to do business with Iran, told CNN: “It’s possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments.”

Pompeo said he was “hopeful in the days and weeks ahead we can come up with a deal that really works, that really protects the world from Iranian bad behavior, not just their nuclear program, but their missiles and their malign behavior as well.”

Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran deal has upset European allies, cast uncertainty over global oil supplies and raised the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

This week, Israel and Iran engaged in an extensive military exchange on the heels of Trump’s decision to leave the deal. On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron told Trump in a telephone call that he was worried about stability in the Middle East, according to Macron’s office.

Bolton would not respond directly when asked whether Trump might seek “regime change” in Iran, or whether the U.S. military would be ordered to make a preemptive strike against any Iranian nuclear facility.

“I’m not the national security decision maker,” Bolton said, adding that Trump “makes the decision and the advice that I give him is between us.”

Bolton said Trump “has I think very clear policies, both with respect to North Korea and Iran. Those are the policies that we are pursuing.”

When pressed by CNN on whether the administration would sanction European firms, Bolton said, “I think the Europeans will see that it’s in their interest ultimately to come along with us.”

Bolton said Europe was still digesting the May 8 move by Trump.

“I think at the moment there’s some feeling in Europe – they’re really surprised we got out of it, really surprised at the reimposition of strict sanctions. I think that will sink in; we’ll see what happens then,” Bolton said.

[Reuters]

Media

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/us-sanctions-uk-europe-iran-business-trade-trump-john-bolton-a8349611.html

McMaster’s No. 2 to leave White House amid Bolton overhaul

Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster’s No. 2 is exiting the White House, a spokesperson confirmed Thursday, marking the fourth senior staffer to unveil plans to leave the National Security Council as John Bolton takes over.

White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told reporters that Ricky Waddell, the deputy national security adviser to President Donald Trump, “plans to step down from his position at the White House.”

Walters said Waddell “will stay on board for the immediate future to help ensure a smooth and orderly transition.”

Waddell, an Army reserve major general, became the deputy to McMaster last May. He previously served as commander of the 76th Operational Response Command.

The deputy is the fourth top official to announce they will leave the NSC since Trump fired McMaster and appointed the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to succeed him.

On Wednesday the White House confirmed that deputy national security adviser for strategy Nadia Schadlow will resign effective April 27. Like Waddell, Schadlow said in a statement she will stay on board until then to “help with the transition” of Bolton.

Earlier this week Tom Bossert, a prominent voice on counterterrorism and cybersecurity in the Trump administration and a homeland security adviser, said he will step down. On Sunday, a day before Bolton’s first day at the NSC, agency spokesman Michael Anton announced plans to leave the administration.

The string of departures signals that Bolton, whose hawkish foreign policy views have raised concern among some officials, will have the opportunity to reshape the agency’s leadership structure to this liking.

“Dr. Waddell is highly respected and very well liked within the White House and the United States Army,” Walters added. “We thank him for his continued service.”

News of Waddell’s exit plans was first reported by Axios.

[Politico]