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International relations

Russia woos China to join nuclear framework with US

Moscow sees new opportunities as Cold War deal crumbles

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Russia on Sept. 11. Putin wants Xi to take part in negotiations for a new nuclear framework involving the U.S.   © Reuters

MOSCOW -- Russia is urging China to take part in a new nuclear deal in the works with the U.S., Nikkei has learned, as the world's two largest nuclear powers spar over the future of a treaty that Beijing is not a party to.

Moscow suggested in late October that China attend negotiations for the deal, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Beijing apparently has not rejected the idea.

The U.S. and Russia are currently bound by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which prohibits ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 km to 5,500 km. But U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced plans to withdraw over what he publicly painted as Russian violations.

On Dec. 4, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Russia 60 days to return to compliance before Washington begins the process of leaving. Moscow says it has not violated the treaty and points an accusing finger at the U.S. for its missile defense hardware in Eastern Europe.

The two sides are believed to be working out a new framework behind closed doors to replace the INF Treaty. "I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi [Jinping of China] and I, together with President [Vladimir] Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race," Trump tweeted on Dec. 3.

Putin may have touched on a joint framework with China when he briefly spoke with Trump in Buenos Aires on Dec. 1, a source close to the Russian government said.

Putin said on Dec. 5 that Russia will follow suit if the U.S. starts developing missiles now banned by the INF treaty. "This is actually true," he said of the argument that they are the only two nations that do not produce such arms. "Many other countries -- probably about a dozen already -- make such weapons, while Russia and the United States have limited themselves bilaterally."

Russia likely sees the INF as essentially dead. Significantly outgunned by NATO in conventional arms, the country has been thought to even welcome the American decision as an excuse to strengthen its own nuclear posture.

"The United States is primarily focused on Asia where it would like to compensate for the 'unfair' lack of intermediate- and shorter-range weapons there," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in October. Moscow hopes that Beijing would take its side against strengthened missile defenses by the U.S. in Asia.

Meanwhile, the nuclear issue is one of the few Trump can meet with Putin on amid the ongoing probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It remains to be seen whether more hawkish members of his administration, like National Security Adviser John Bolton, will be open to adding China to the mix.

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