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Donald Trump appears set to end more than three decades of efforts with Russia to cut nuclear arsenals.
The president intends to suspend U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
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 U.S. goods as the latest round concluded in Washington, while Trump said he would dispatch senior negotiators to Beijing. The U.S. 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 it quell 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 U.S. 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 Corruption Watch. “We’re down there right now with the worst.”
What to Watch
Vice President Mike Pence, who has been the most public face of the Trump administration’s campaign against Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Caracas, will travel to Miami today to meet with Venezuelan exiles. Abortion opponents may be about to collect their first dividends from the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh as the Supreme Court decides in the next few days whether to temporarily block a Louisiana law that requires doctors performing the procedure to get admission privileges at a local hospital.And finally …The latest product to get entangled by U.S. 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.”