By DEB RIECHMANN
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser will raise thorny subjects with his counterparts when he visits Moscow to help craft a script for another high-level meeting between Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin.
John Bolton leaves Saturday on a trip to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. His first stop is Moscow to meet with senior Russian officials at a time when Moscow-Washington relations remain frosty over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race and upcoming U.S. midterm elections.
The New York Times citing unnamed sources reported Friday that Bolton is expected to tell Russia that the U.S. is getting ready to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The U.S. has accused Russia of violating the treaty for years; Russia says the United States is in violation.
The 1987 pact, which helps protect the security of the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Far East, prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.
The Trump administration would not confirm reports that Trump will exit the treaty.
“Across two administrations, the United States and our allies have attempted to bring Russia back into full and verifiable compliance with INF,” a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue. “Despite our objections, Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise misses and has ignored calls for transparency.”
Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said pulling out of the treaty would play into Russia’s hands, undermine U.S. security and betray NATO allies. He said any attempt by the Trump administration to leave the treaty will spark a fight with Congress.
“Without question, Russia is violating the INF treaty. Threatening American withdrawal will not increase our negotiating leverage, it only falls hook, line, and sinker for Putin’s predictable attempts to goad the United States into justifying Russian noncompliance,” Markey said.
Bolton also is expected to emphasize U.S. desire to maintain sanctions against North Korea to pressure Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear weapons program.
The Russians and Chinese have suggested it might be time to ease up on sanctions, but that is not the U.S. view and “we will not relent,” said a senior administration official. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of Bolton’s trip.
Putin and Trump met last in Helsinki, Finland, where Trump was criticized for appearing to doubt U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
Trump could see Putin at an Armistice Day parade in Paris next month, or at the G20 summit in late November and early December in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but Trump still wants Putin to visit Washington, the official said,
After Russia, Bolton will travel to Azerbaijan for discussions on a range of regional issues, including Iran, before continuing to Armenia and Georgia.