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Putin, Bolton Discuss Possible U.S.-Russia Summit In November In Paris


Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) attends a meeting with U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton at the Kremlin on October 23.

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton has said after talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin that Washington will make precise arrangements for President Donald Trump to meet with Putin in Paris on November 11.

Bolton made the remarks at a news conference after a 90-minute meeting with Putin that he described as "'very comprehensive and productive."

The meeting began with Putin telling Bolton that he wants to continue a dialogue with Trump that began at a July summit in Helsinki.

Putin said it's important to maintain Russia-U.S. dialogue, despite differences. Putin also mentioned the possibility of meeting Trump when the two leaders are in Paris to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Bolton responded by saying Trump also wants to meet with Putin in Paris in November.

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"I think President Trump will look forward to seeing you in Paris on the sidelines of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice," Bolton told Putin in televised remarks in Moscow before the start of their meeting.

Bolton's visit comes after Trump on October 20 announced that he intends to pull out of a key nuclear arms agreement, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Putin told Bolton he would like to discuss various arms control issues with Trump and said Russia was baffled by America's "unprovoked moves that are hard to call friendly."

Trump's vow to abandon the INF has caused concern in Europe and brought arms control matters to the forefront of ties between the former Cold War foes, whose relations are severely strained due to an array of disputes, despite the stated hopes of both Trump and Putin for improvements.

Bolton said told the news conference after his talks with Putin that a formal notification of the U.S. withdrawal from the INF accord will be filed in due course, adding that when Washington withdrew from another arms control treaty in the past, it was a process that took several months.

"The problem is that there are Russian INF-violating missiles in Europe now," Bolton said. "The threat is not the American withdrawal from the treaty. The threat is Russian missiles already deployed."

Answering a question about accusations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Bolton said Russian meddling had backfired on Moscow, providing a lesson to the Kremlin: "Don't mess with American elections."

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia targeted the 2016 campaign with a hacking and social-media disinformation campaign to try to tilt the election in Trump's favor and that they were likely to do so again in the November U.S. midterm election.

Bolton said there was no evidence that the interference -- which Russia has denied -- materially affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, but that it did create mistrust towards Russia.

Bolton also held talks on October 23 with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who said that bilateral dialogue is gradually being restored after the Helsinki summit in July. Shoigu voiced confidence that "even small steps will benefit our relations."

In televised comments, neither Bolton nor Shoigu mentioned Trump's announcement on the INF treaty.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier in the day reiterated criticism of the promised U.S. pullout, saying that despite "weak points" in the treaty, "tearing up the agreement without plans for anything new is what we don't welcome."

After his talks with Shoigu, Bolton conducted what one Twitter user called "wreath diplomacy" and another called a "difficult balancing act," visiting both the tomb of the unknown soldier outside the Kremlin -- a customary stop for foreign officials on top-level visits -- and a makeshift memorial to murdered Kremlin opponent Boris Nemtsov on the nearby bridge where he was shot dead in February 2015.

The U.S. plans for withdrawal from the treaty were also discussed in talks with Bolton's counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, and during a dinner that Bolton had with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on October 22.

On the same day, Bolton told the Russian newspaper Kommersant that the United States is planning to pull out of the treaty because Russia is violating it and because other countries including China, Iran, and North Korea are free to develop weapons that would be prohibited under the pact, while Washington is not.

With Russia in violation, "there was only one country in the world bound by the INF treaty and that was the United States," Bolton told Kommersant on October 22, according to an English transcript of the interview that was posted on the U.S. Embassy website. "That’s just not acceptable."

In a separate interview with the BBC that was published on October 23, Bolton said that Shoigu "is aware of the larger global context -- that this is a bilateral treaty of the Cold War days; technologies changed, geostrategic realities changed, and we both have to deal with it."

Trump made similar remarks late on October 22, saying his decision to withdraw from the INF -- which prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers -- was driven by Moscow's alleged violations and a need to respond to China's nuclear buildup.

"Russia has not adhered to the agreement.... Until people come to their senses -- we have more money than anybody else, by far. We’ll build it up," Trump told reporters at the White House. "Until they come to their senses. When they do, then we’ll all be smart and we’ll all stop."

Asked if that was a threat to Putin, Trump said: "It’s a threat to whoever you want. And it includes China, and it includes Russia, and it includes anybody else that wants to play that game. You can’t do that. You can’t play that game on me."

While China was never a party to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), which was signed four years before the Soviet collapse by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Trump said that China should be included in the accord.

In Moscow, Russian officials warned the United States that abandoning the treaty would be "dangerous" and any effort to develop weapons that would violate the pact would force Moscow to take steps to restore the balance of power.

"Any action in this area will be met with a counteraction, because the strategic stability can only be ensured on the basis of parity," Lavrov said before his talks with Bolton. "Such parity will be secured under all circumstances. We bear a responsibility for global stability and we expect the United States not to shed its share of responsibility either."

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In the interview with Kommersant, Bolton said that the United States is concerned about Russia's alleged violation of the pact -- which Moscow denies -- and about China's growing intermediate-range missile capabilities, which he called a "very real" threat.

While Bolton acknowledged it might be unrealistic to expect China to comply with a treaty it never signed, he argued that China's and North Korea's development of intermediate-range missiles means that the bilateral treaty with Russia is now outmoded and no longer meets today's realities.

China criticized the United States and warned Washington to "think twice" about withdrawing from the treaty.

"It needs to be emphasized that it is completely wrong to bring up China when talking about withdrawal from the treaty," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

Nearly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles were eliminated by the Soviet Union and the United States under the INF treaty, but China has been building up its capabilities to field the same kinds of weapons.

For the United States, "the situation vis-a-vis China, uninhibited by any agreement, is very different and far more pressing" than that of Russia, said John Lee, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, in a column on CNN's website on October 22.

Lee estimated that about 95 percent of the missiles in China's arsenal would violate the INF treaty if Beijing were a signatory.

Writing in The American Interest, Stephen Sestanovich, a former U.S. National Security Council senior director for policy development under Reagan, said that "military competition between China and the United States will obviously be the Pentagon's top priority in coming years."

"But the idea that this need decisively devalues the INF treaty seems -- at the very least -- premature," Sestanovich added.

U.S. officials say Russia has been developing a nuclear-capable missile system known as 9M729 for years in violation of the treaty.

Russia denies the U.S. accusations and claims that some elements of the U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe violate the treaty -- a charge that Washington denies.

Bolton repeated that denial, and his remarks to Kommersant suggested that neither side had made much progress in convincing the other that it is in violation.

His talks in Moscow have also covered other weapons issues, including the 2010 New START treaty, which puts limits on the two countries' long-range nuclear arsenals and expires in 2021 -- and broader bilateral ties.

Trump has repeatedly said he wants an improvement in U.S.-Russian relations, which have been badly strained by discord over issues including Moscow's interference in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the 2016 election that Trump won.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, Kommersant, TASS, and Interfax
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