After NATO members concluded that Russia had violated a Cold War-era nuclear pact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States might leave the agreement altogether.
The United States and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1987, during the tail end of Ronald Reagan's presidency. Under the terms of the treaty, neither nation could own any "ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment." The treaty is set to expire in 2021, but Russia has expressed an interest in having it renewed.
In a news conference at that time, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he believed that, despite Russia's insistence, “the most plausible assessment would be that Russia is in violation of the treaty." He urged the Russian government to address “these concerns in a substantial and transparent manner."
However, the Russian government dismissed these claims as "aggressive rhetoric" in an interview with CNN and asked if "ordinary people in the USA know that the so-called diplomats" that represent them "behave so aggressively and destructively."
President Donald Trump had threatened in late October that he would leave the treaty.
"Russia has violated the agreement. They've been violating it for many years," Trump said. "And I don't know why President [Barack] 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."
Trump's national security adviser John Bolton had reportedly been pushing to have the U.S. withdraw from this treaty. Bolton distributed a memo last week informing government officials to prepare for the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. from the treaty, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to convince Trump to delay that move.
What happened now?
"It makes no sense for the United States to remain in a treaty that constrains our ability to respond to Russia's violations," Pompeo said on Tuesday after meeting with NATO foreign ministers. "We hope that they'll change course, but there's been absolutely no indication that they'll do so."
Pompeo said that Russia would have 60 days to come back into compliance with the treaty. If Russia failed to comply, the U.S. would consider the treaty to be null and void.
Stoltenberg said that he regretted seeing the INF come to a close.
"We really felt that the world was moving forward when the Soviet Union and the United States in 1987 agreed," he said.