By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, will visit Moscow next week for talks that may include telling Russian officials that the United States plans to withdraw from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
While Bolton will discuss other major topics with Russian officials, including North Korea, Ukraine and Syria, the 1987 accord between the United States and the former Soviet Union is also expected to come up.
The INF treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1988, required elimination of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by both countries.
The United States believes Russia is in violation of the accord. The New York Times said Bolton would tell Moscow that Washington planned to withdraw from the treaty. White House officials did not deny the report.
A senior Trump administration official said two administrations had tried to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty.
"Despite our objections, Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency," the official said.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to meet with Bolton, the RIA news agency reported. Bolton's meetings in Moscow were scheduled for Oct. 22-23, RIA said.
Bolton said on Twitter that he planned to meet with top Russian officials but did not mention Putin.
"Heading to Moscow tomorrow to meet with senior Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, to continue discussions that began in Helsinki between our two countries," Bolton said.
Critics of Trump have accused him of being soft on Russia, and both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress are pushing for more sanctions on Moscow. Sanctions had been imposed for Russia's suspected meddling in elections in the United States and other countries, the Ukraine crisis, and allegations it was behind a nerve agent attack in Britain.
The Kremlin has denied any election interference or role in the nerve attack.
A senior administration official said Bolton will use the trip to discuss the next meeting between Trump and Putin. The two leaders may see each other in Paris at a Nov. 11 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.
But they may have more substantive talks on the fringes of a G-20 summit in Argentina later in November.
Trump's invitation to Putin to visit Washington still stood, the official said. Trump made the invitation in the aftermath of a summit in Helsinki in which he appeared to accept Putin's denials of interference in the 2016 U.S. election over the word of his own intelligence agencies.
While in Moscow, Bolton will emphasize the importance of maintaining sanctions against North Korea in order to keep pressure on the elimination of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme. Russia and China have suggested easing up on sanctions.
Bolton will also travel to Azerbaijan for discussions on a range of regional issues including Iran, before continuing to Armenia and Georgia.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Susan Heavey in Washington; editing by Richard Chang and Grant McCool)
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Updated Date: Oct 20, 2018 05:05 AM