'Let It Be an Arms Race,' Trump Says

President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday that the U.S. needs to expand its nuclear capabilities. ENLARGE
President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday that the U.S. needs to expand its nuclear capabilities. Photo: Jay LaPrete/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—President-elect Donald Trump said Friday that he welcomes an international nuclear-arms race, a comment his spokesman later sought to temper and which Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to dismiss.

Mr. Trump’s remarks came a day after he and Mr. Putin issued competing declarations that their respective countries will ratchet up nuclear weapons capabilities. Addressing the subject Friday, the U.S. president-elect appeared to double down on the warning, saying he welcomes the nuclear competition.

“Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Mr. Trump said in a brief, off-camera interview with MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, who reported it on the show Friday morning.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump said in a Twitter message that the U.S. needs to expand its nuclear capabilities, though he provided no explanation what policy changes that implied. The message came after Mr. Putin made a statement that Russia needs to build up its military across the board, including nuclear weapons.

On Friday in a nationally televised press conference, Mr. Putin said Russia doesn’t want an arms race.

“We will never get dragged into an arms race where we spend resources that we can’t afford,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s newly named White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, played down any danger of nuclear brinkmanship when he was asked about Mr. Trump’s comment on NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning.

“I think the point that he’s making is we’re not going to sit back as a country and allow other countries to expand their nuclear capability, with the U.S. just sitting idly by,” Mr. Spicer said. “Other countries need to be put on notice.”

Mr. Spicer dismissed concerns of a renewed nuclear arms race, implying that other countries would capitulate.

“What’s going to happen is they will all come to their senses and we will all be just fine,” he said.

Write to Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com

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