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Senior UN official wants US, Russia to settle impasse over nuclear force pact by diplomacy

Izumi Nakamitsu, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, poses for a picture during a recent interview with The Mainichi in Tokyo, on Dec. 7, 2018. (Mainichi/Taro Fujii)

TOKYO -- United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu stated the rising tension between the United States and Russia over the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is "difficult," but emphasized the need for the two countries to settle their differences diplomatically.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Dec. 4 that Washington considered Moscow to be "in material breach of the treaty," and would suspend its obligations "as a remedy effective in 60 days unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance." The INF treaty, signed in 1987 during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, Russia's predecessor state, provides for the destruction of nuclear-capable ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

"I want them to solve the issue through diplomatic efforts," said Nakamitsu in an interview in Tokyo with The Mainichi conducted in Japanese. "Even if (the INF treaty) doesn't function effectively right now, breaking it before creating a new one is not necessarily a wise thing to do," Nakamitsu warned. She also pointed out that scrapping treaty would cause substantial impact on European countries.

"They are discussing (about what should be done) within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)," Nakamitsu said.

In December, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated in an interview with the media that dialogue is needed for creating transparency and preventing misinterpretations. "We will work in the coming months to bring European partners on board," Maas said. "We have to do everything in our power to put an end to the global arms race."

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Dec. 3 about the possibility of starting arms control talks with both Russia and China. "I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race," he wrote.

Of Trump's idea, Nakamitsu said that "if the three countries can talk (about arms control), it will be a very good thing."

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has announced withdrawal or threatened withdrawal from international agreements, including the Paris Agreement to fight global warming. Nakamitsu said that the U.N.'s cooperation with Washington "remains unchanged at my level," adding that she wants to continue cooperation between the nation and the organization. "I guess the U.S. also wants to keep the channels open for talks."

Regarding the stalled denuclearization negotiations between the U.S and North Korea, Nakamitsu said that it is a "very difficult process, and my impression is that it is currently where we expected it to be."

When asked about Japan's expected role in nuclear disarmament, she said Tokyo could ask nuclear weapons states, such as its ally the U.S., to declare that they will no longer use nuclear weapons. Another area where Japan can play a major role, she added, is contributing to the standards for the verification for the destruction or abandonment of such arms toward a "world without nuclear weapons."

(By Hiroaki Wada, The Mainichi Staff Writer)

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