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Tougher stance on Russia

The Trump administration on Friday announced it will continue much of the Obama administration's nuclear weapons policy, but take a more aggressive stance toward Russia. It said Russia must be persuaded it would face "unacceptably dire costs" if it were to threaten even limited nuclear attack in Europe.

The sweeping review of U.S. nuclear policy does not call for any net increase in strategic nuclear weapons, a position that stands in contrast to President Donald Trump's statement, in a tweet shortly before he took office, that the U.S. "must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." In his State of the Union address Tuesday, he made no mention of expansion, though he said the arsenal must deter acts of aggression.

A 74-page report summarizing the review's findings calls North Korea a "clear and grave threat" to the U.S. and its allies. It asserts that any North Korean nuclear attack against the U.S. or its allies will result in "the end of that regime."

It also cast China as a potential nuclear adversary, saying the U.S. arsenal is tailored to "prevent Beijing from mistakenly concluding" that it could gain advantage by using its nuclear weapons in Asia, or that "any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is acceptable."

The Pentagon-led review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the policies that govern it was ordered by Trump a year ago. In a written statement, Trump said U.S. strategy is designed to make use of nuclear weapons less likely. In an apparent reference to the threat of catastrophic cyberattack, he said the U.S. aims to strengthen deterrence of major attacks against the U.S. and its allies, including those that "may not come in the form of nuclear weapons."

Known officially as a nuclear posture review, and customarily done at the outset of a new administration, the report drew blistering criticism from arms control groups.

"President Trump is embarking on a reckless path — one that will reduce U.S. security both now and in the longer term," said Lisbeth Gronlund, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She said the administration is blurring the line between nuclear and conventional war-fighting.

The Trump administration concluded that the U.S. should largely follow its predecessor's blueprint for modernizing the nuclear arsenal, including new bomber aircraft, submarines and land-based missiles. It also endorsed adhering to existing arms control agreements, including the New START treaty that limits the United States and Russia each to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads on a maximum of 700 deployed launchers.

The treaty, negotiated under President Barack Obama, entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011, and its weapons limits must be met by Monday. The U.S. says it has been in compliance with the limits since August and it expects the Russians to comply by Monday's deadline. As of Sept. 1, the last date for which official figures are available, Russia was below the launcher limit but slightly above the warhead limit, at 1,561.

"Moscow has repeatedly stated its intention to meet those limits on time, and we have no reason to believe that that won't be the case," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday.



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