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Trump reportedly had to pause a call with Putin because he didn't know about Russia-U.S. nuclear treaty

Trump reportedly had to pause a call with Putin because he didn’t know about Russia-U.S. nuclear treaty

On Donald Trump’s first official call with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently, the new president apparently didn’t know what the New START Treaty with Russia was, but that didn’t stop him from declaring it a bad deal that was unfair to the United States.

When Putin brought up potentially extending the nuclear arms control treaty, according to a Reuters exclusive, Trump briefly paused the conversation to ask aides about the agreement, then proceeded to criticize it.

Negotiated by President Obama and ratified with bipartisan support by the Senate in 2010, the New START Treaty was the signature policy of Obama’s attempted “reset” with Russia in the first term of his presidency. The arms treaty reduced Cold War nuclear arsenals, capped the total of weapons that could be deployed, and allowed for 18 on-site inspections per year.

Both countries celebrated the deal.

“This is the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades,” Obama said after the Senate ratified the treaty. “It will make us safer and will reduce our nuclear arsenal.” And then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called it “history” and a “win-win” for both countries.

The treaty can be extended until 2021 and Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate that he supports the agreement. Trump’s apparent opposition now casts doubt on the treaty’s future, however.

The Reuters exclusive was based on two sources who were briefed by people who read the notes taken, along with another person briefed on the Jan. 28 call.

Nuclear ambitions 

Trump’s apparent lack of familiarity with the treaty, followed by his immediate rejection of it, once again raises questions about the new president’s position on America’s nuclear weapons program and previous international non-proliferation commitments.

During the presidential transition, Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” Later, he told the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he is OK with an “arms race” because “we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Trump also does not appear to be taking part in the usual briefings presidents receive before calls with foreign leaders. Reuters reported that Trump did not receive a briefing from a Russia expert from the National Security Council before the call with Putin, as most presidents do before a call with another nation’s leader. Yesterday, Trump also appeared to be tweeting about Nordstrom dropping his daughter’s apparel line 20 minutes into his intelligence briefing.

This continues a pattern Trump established during the presidential transition period when the State Department revealed that Trump was not receiving customary briefings before conversations with his foreign counterparts. He also eschewed taking part in the intelligence briefing every day.

Unusual diplomacy 

The Reuters revelations follow a series of unorthodox, and sometimes hostile, conversations between Trump and other heads of state. After his conversation with Putin, Trump hung up on the Australian prime minister and told him it was his “worst call by far” that day, according to the Washington Post. A spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel put out a statement that the German government “explained” America’s obligations under the Geneva conventions to Trump in a phone call between the two leaders.

A senior official told Politico that Trump’s call with French President Francois Hollande that same day was “difficult” and “not the usual way heads of state speak to each other.” Trump also reportedly told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that America’s southern neighbor was so full of “bad hombres” that the American military might have to intervene.

All four conversations took place with countries traditionally seen as close U.S. allies.

Cover: (Rex Features via AP Images)

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