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United States

US weighs response to Russian violations of nuclear missile treaty

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 2:23am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 2:23am

The United States is reviewing military options, including new intermediate-range cruise missile systems, in response to what it says is Russia’s ongoing violation of a cold war-era pact banning such missiles, the State Department said on Friday.

Washington is prepared “to cease such research and development activities” if Russia returns to compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The warning was the Trump administration’s first response to US charges first levelled in 2014 that Russia had deployed a ground-launched cruise missile that breaches the pact’s ban on the testing and fielding of missiles with ranges of between 500-5,500 kms (310-3,417 miles).

US officials have said the Russian cruise missile is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and that Moscow has refused to hold in-depth discussions about the alleged breach.

Russia has denied that it is violating the accord.

The US allegation has added to strains in relations between Moscow and Washington. US and Russian officials are due to discuss the issue at a meeting in coming weeks of the special commission that oversees the treaty, said a US official, who requested anonymity.

In the statement marking the treaty’s 30th anniversary, Nauert said the United States “remains firmly committed to the INF Treaty and continues to seek the Russian Federation’s return to compliance.”

“The administration firmly believes, however, that the United States cannot stand still while the Russian Federation continues to develop military systems in violation of the treaty,” she said.

The administration is now “pursuing economic and military measures intended to induce the Russian Federation to return to compliance,” said Nauert.

The measures, she said, involve a review of “military concepts and options” that include researching new ground-launched conventional cruise missile systems.

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“This step will not violate our INF Treaty obligations,” Nauert said. “We are also prepared to cease such research and development activities if the Russian Federation returns to full and verifiable compliance with its INF Treaty obligations.”

Nauert did not disclose the economic measures under consideration.

The United States slapped sanctions on Russian entities and individuals, including people close to President Vladimir Putin, for Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. Moscow denies that it interfered in the election.

A senior administration official, speaking recently on condition of anonymity, said the administration wanted to preserve the INF Treaty rather than rip it up.

“If we took the Russian approach, we’d all sort of say happy things about what a nice treaty we have and we would both go about violating it secretly,” said the senior administration official. “But that’s not how we roll. It’s because we like arms control when it’s done properly.”