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NATO chief to meet Russia’s Lavrov on missile pact crisis

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses medias before the Nato Defence minister meeting, on February 13, 2019. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Wednesday that he will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week, as part of efforts to save a key arms control treaty that is on the point of collapse.

The pair will meet at the Munich Security Conference, which starts on Friday, as NATO tries to persuade Moscow to abandon a new missile system the alliance says breaches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The US began the process of exiting the treaty earlier this month in response to Moscow’s deployment of the 9M729 missile, prompting Russia to announce its own withdrawal.

“I expect to meet minister Lavrov in Munich, and I think it is important to have a dialogue with Russia especially when we face so many difficult issues as we face today,” Stoltenberg said as he arrived for a meeting of NATO defence ministers.

The US withdrawal will only take effect in August, giving a six-month window to save the treaty, but few expect this to happen and Stoltenberg said NATO was already planning for a “future without the INF treaty and with more missiles”.

The future of the INF treaty — and what steps NATO will take to bolster its defence against new Russian medium-range missiles — are top of the agenda for the defence ministers’ two-day meeting.

The collapse of the 1987 treaty, which banned ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres, has sparked fears of a new arms race in Europe.

But Stoltenberg said NATO had no intention of deploying “new nuclear land-based weapons systems in Europe”.

“Then of course we have a wide range of other options, conventional and other options, but I will not speculate on them now,” Stoltenberg said.

Moscow denies the missile breaches the terms of the INF treaty and has made various counter-allegations against the US.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who signed the INF treaty with then US president Ronald Reagan, launched a stinging attack on Washington over its exit from the pact on Wednesday.

He accused the US of abandoning the agreement “to free itself of any constraints in the arms sphere (and) gain absolute military superiority”, in a column published by the Russian newspaper Vedomosti.

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