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US could ‘take out’ controversial Russian weapon if necessary, envoy says

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, ahead of the 178th Military Committee in Chiefs of Defence Session at NATO HQ, in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 15th, 2018. (Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO has said that if necessary, the United States would consider destroying a Russian missile system that Washington contends Moscow is developing in violation of a nuclear arms treaty.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on October 2, Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison called on Russia to halt development of the 9M729, which the United States says is a violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

“It is time now for Russia to come to the table and stop the violations,” Hutchison said on the eve of a meeting between Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his NATO counterparts.

If the system “became capable of delivering,” she said, the United States “would then be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the statement “dangerous.”

Moscow denies it is violating the INF treaty, which banned all land-based cruise missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers — rockets that in Russia’s case would be capable of reaching Europe or Alaska, and claims the United States has violated it — an allegation Washington denies.

Hutchison said that the United States was committed to a diplomatic solution but would consider military action if necessary.

“Countermeasures [by the United States] would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty,” she added. “They are on notice.”

The comments by Hutchison, who was appointed to the NATO post by President Donald Trump, appeared to be the most direct warning of a preemptive strike since a U.S. official said in 2017 that the United States would consider creating its own system if Russia continued to violate the INF treaty.

They come at a time when relations between Russia and NATO remain tense due to disputes over issues including Russia’s military action in Ukraine and Syria, its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the Western accusation that Moscow was behind the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in March.

In 2017, 30 years after the Cold War-era treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union, a U.S. State Department report said that Russia had violated obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” an intermediate-range, ground-launched cruise missile “or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

“We have been trying to send a message to Russia for several years that we know they are violating the treaty, we have shown Russia the evidence that we have that they are violating the treaty,” Hutchison said. “We are laying down the markers so that our allies will help us bring Russia to the table.”

Mattis said he would discuss the issue with his NATO defense ministers at a meeting in Brussels on October 3-4.

“I cannot forecast where it will go, it is a decision for the president, but I can tell you that both on Capitol Hill and in State Department, there is a lot of concern about this situation and I’ll return with the advice of our allies and engage in that discussion to determine the way ahead,” he told reporters in Paris.