By Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's Vladimir Putin met U.S. President Donald Trump's national security advisor on Tuesday after the Kremlin said that Trump's talk of quitting a landmark arms treaty that scrapped nuclear missiles in Europe was dangerous.
In opening remarks, Putin told John Bolton that Russia was sometimes surprised by what he said were unprovoked steps that Washington took against Moscow.
But he said he wanted to hold new talks with Trump, possibly in Paris next month - a meeting which Bolton said he thought Trump would welcome.
"We barely respond to any of your steps but they keep on coming," Putin told Bolton.
"On the coat of the arms of the United States there's an eagle holding 13 arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other. My question is whether your eagle has gobbled up all the olives leaving only the arrows?"
Bolton, who told Putin he hoped to be able to address some of Putin's concerns about the troubled state of U.S.-Russia relations, quipped that he hadn't brought any olives.
Bolton's visit to Moscow comes a day after Russia said it would be forced to respond in kind to restore the military balance with the United States if Trump followed through on his threat to quit the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and began developing new missiles.
Before the talks began, a Kremlin spokesman said the landmark INF treaty had its weak points, but the U.S. approach of talking about leaving it without proposing a replacement was dangerous.
The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he expected Bolton to explain the U.S. stance to Putin.
"Of course there are weak points (in the treaty), but tearing up the agreement without plans for anything new is what we don't welcome," Peskov told reporters.
"To first reject the document and then (talk of) ephemeral possibilities to conclude a new one is a dangerous stance."
Signed by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, the INF required elimination of all short- and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles held by both countries in Europe.
Its demise could raise the prospect of a new arms race and of Europe once again hosting U.S. land-based ballistic and cruise missiles.
Gorbachev, now 87, has warned that unravelling it could have catastrophic consequences. Countries such as Poland have, however, backed Trump's move.
Bolton has said he thinks the treaty is outdated because it does not cover countries such as China, Iran and North Korea which he says remain free to make intermediate-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.
Russia and the United States have long accused each other of violating the terms of the treaty, something they both deny.
Trump's withdrawal announcement is causing particular concern in Europe which was the main beneficiary of the INF treaty as a result of the removal of Pershing and U.S. cruise missiles from Europe and of Soviet SS-20 missiles from the European part of the then Soviet Union.
Without the treaty, some European countries fear that Washington might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe again and that Russia might move to deploy such missiles in its exclave of Kaliningrad which would once again turn Europe into a potential nuclear battlefield.
German lawmakers, who are keenly aware that Berlin would be within strike-range of any such missiles deployed in Kaliningrad, are among those worried.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday that Germany would seek NATO's help to maintain the treaty between Russia and the United States, and was ready to take action to force Moscow to comply with the pact.
Others, such as Poland, were supportive of Trump's stance.
“If this treaty doesn’t work because it has already been broken, there’s a clear question about whether or not it should be kept,” said Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz on Monday, according to Polish Radio.
Polish President Andrzey Duda said in Berlin that his country had not discussed the possibility of hosting U.S. intermediate-range missiles, but said Trump's stance made "a certain amount of sense."
Trump’s withdrawal statement puts the rest of NATO in a difficult position however as the alliance has always sought the political high ground on the issue and NATO leaders said in July they were committed to preserving the landmark pact.
(Additional reporting by Polina Nikolskaya, Katya Golubkova and Polina Devitt in Moscow, Paul Carrel and Hans-Edzard Busemann in Berlin, Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Sobczak in Warsaw, and by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
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Updated Date: Oct 24, 2018 00:05 AM