Former Defense Secretary William Perry on Friday said it would be a "tragic mistake" if President Donald Trump did not seize on a reported offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend the 2011 New START Treaty to reduce nuclear arms.
Perry was reacting to a report that Trump, in a recent call with Putin, called the treaty a "bad deal."
Under the pact both sides agreed to reduce their deployed nuclear arms to 1,500, the lowest since the 1950s.
"President Trump’s reported comments that New START is a 'bad deal' and favored Russia is simply wrong," Perry told POLITICO. "The treaty calls for equal numbers of weapons and a verification process that, if anything, is harder on Russia than the U.S."
Trump’s comments were reported to be in response to Putin’s suggestion that the U.S. and Russia extend the treaty.
"It would be a tragic mistake if we failed to take advantage of Russia’s offer to extend the treaty," Perry said.
The reports also suggested that Trump was unfamiliar with the treaty and turned to an aide during the call to ask him to explain it. The White House on Friday insisted that Trump is familiar with New START.
"It wasn't like he didn't know what was being said," press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters. "He wanted an opinion on something."
Perry, who served as Pentagon chief from 1994-97, now runs the William J. Perry Project, where he has had been trying to educate a new generation on the growing danger of nuclear weapons. His comments are the latest from a series of leading experts on nuclear arms to express deep concern about Trump's apparent dismissal of the treaty.
“At the stroke of a pen, Trump could extend New START, preserve critical verification tools and strengthen restraints on Russia’s nuclear ambitions for the long haul," said Bruce Blair, co-founder of Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and a former nuclear missile watch officer. "Instead, he seems intent on careening down a path that leads to more nuclear weapons on the planet and a greater likelihood of nuclear war.”
Former Rep. John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat who now runs the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, also condemned the notion that the treaty that was signed by President Barack Obama and Putin and ratified by the U.S. Senate, was harmful to American interests.
“The New START agreement is one of history’s more important arms control treaties," Tierney said. "It caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads the United States and Russia can deploy and facilitates nuclear transparency between both superpowers. Without this treaty, Russia would have no limits on its nuclear weapons program and, accordingly, American national security would be severely weakened.”
"By denouncing New START," he added, "President Trump is playing a dangerous game that puts U.S.-Russia relations and the American people at risk.”Read more