US to deploy missiles in Asia soon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper says

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The U.S. wants to deploy an intermediate-range conventional missile in the Pacific region within months, it announced only a day after quitting a major arms control treaty with Russia.

“It’s fair to say, though, that we would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters late Friday traveling with him to Australia late Friday.

“I would prefer months. I just don’t have the latest state of play on timelines.”

Esper added that it will take some time to develop the more advanced land-based missile capabilities, a move likely to alarm the Asian Pacific countries, including China.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed during the Cold War era, banned land-based missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers (310-3,410 miles).

U.S. President Donald Trump has long advocated modernizing the U.S. nuclear program, claiming it has “fallen way behind”.

Esper, who was confirmed as Pentagon chief on July 23, said the deployment locations would depend on conversations with allies and other circumstances.

The INF treaty has been widely seen as a cornerstone of European security in the post-Cold War era. It prohibits both the U.S. and Russia from possessing and testing ground launch missiles with a range between 300-3,100 miles.

Last October, Trump announced an exit from the pact, accusing Moscow of violating it.

This February, the U.S. began the process of withdrawing from the INF, to be completed in six months.

In a tit-for-tat response, on July 3 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill suspending Moscow’s obligations under the INF treaty, calling the U.S. decision “a serious mistake.”

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