Donald Trump sets world on uncertain nuclear path as US readies to pull out of Cold War-era treaty with Russia

Donald Trump appears set to end more than three decades of efforts with Russia to cut nuclear arsenals.

The US president intends to suspend US obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty before withdrawing fully in six months, Nick Wadhams and Margaret Talev report. That would leave the New START treaty as the only accord between the world’s two largest nuclear powers – and it’s due to expire in 2021.

The US accuses Russia of violating the 1987 treaty’s ban on land-based missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers (300-3,500 miles. Russia denies the claim and President Vladimir Putin has warned of the risk of a ‘nuclear catastrophe’ if the global system of deterrence collapses.

While Putin has threatened confrontation by parading new weapons he says make U.S. defenses “ineffective,”Russia’s ailing economy can ill afford an arms race. The loss of nuclear treaties also dents Kremlin illusions that it remains a superpower on a par with its former Cold War foe.

Russia’s eager to save the INF treaty, even as the Trump administration shows no sign it wants to. Nuclear diplomacy is entering an uncertain new era.

Global Headlines

Nearing deadline | China and the U.S. promised to continue high-level trade talks, with just a month to go until their truce expires. China vowed to “substantially” expand its purchases of US goods as the latest round concluded in Washington, while Trump said he would dispatch senior negotiators to Beijing. The US president also raised the tantalizing prospect of another face-to-face meeting with his counterpart Xi Jinping.

Unintended consequences | Trump’s “America First” policy is creating an unexpected diplomatic beneficiary: China. As the U.S. turns inwards,David Wainer reports, Beijing is stepping into the vacuum at the United Nations – it’s now the world body’s second-biggest donor – a move that may help itquell criticism of its more controversial domestic policies.

Kindred spirits | From Europe, a fellow populist is offering a rare embrace to Trump. Italy’s Matteo Salvini is hoping to meet the US president in late February – and potentially fill a void in transatlantic ties left by the U.K.’s planned departure from the European Union and prickly relations with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. It’s time for “a new special relationship,” says Guglielmo Picchi, a Salvini adviser.

Best of friends? | Iran and Venezuela are partners in revolution, oil and, now, U.S. sanctions. Yet as Golnar Motevalli and Ladane Nasseri report, the ties that bind the Islamic and Bolivarian republics are not as strong as they once were. Iran has harshly condemned the Trump administration for its pressure on Caracas, but some may be relieved that U.S. attention is diverted from Tehran.

Rabbit hole | Televised hearings and investigations revealing a pattern of bribes and sweetheart deals between businessmen and officials of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress show graft is far more widespread than most people thought. “It’s systemic,” says David Lewis, the executive director of South Africa’s Corruon. “We’re down there right now with the worst.”

What to

And finally…The latest product to get entangled by US sanctions is a bit of an eye popper: false eyelashes allegedly made with North Korean materials. California makeup company Elf Beauty agreed to pay $996,800 after the Treasury Department found it had run afoul of sanctions on Pyongyang. The firm voluntarily disclosed the apparent violations – stemming from eyelash kits imported from China – and deemed them “non-egregious.”