NATO chief says missile pact in danger after Russia talks

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BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Friday that Russia shows no sign of respecting a major Cold War-era missile treaty and that the future of the pact is in danger as the United States readies to start pulling out of it next week.

“The treaty is now in jeopardy and unfortunately we have not seen any signs of (a) breakthrough,” Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing NATO-Russia talks in Brussels.

The 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union bans production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers (310-3,400 miles).

The Pentagon has shared information with NATO allies asserting that Russia’s new 9M729 missile system falls within the treaty. It believes the ground-fired cruise missile could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice. Moscow insists the missile has a range of less than 500 kilometers.

In October, President Donald Trump warned that the U.S. would abandon the treaty because of alleged Russian violations. If Moscow doesn’t return to compliance, Washington is due to start the six-month process of leaving the pact from Feb. 2.

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“The responsibility to preserve the treaty lies on Russia because Russia is now violating the treaty by developing and deploying new missiles,” Stoltenberg said.

“These new missiles are hard to detect. They are mobile. They are nuclear capable. They can reach European cities and they reduce the warning time, and thereby also the threshold, for any potential use of nuclear weapons in a conflict,” he warned.

Asked what Moscow’s attitude had been during Friday’s talks, Stoltenberg said: “There was no real progress in the meeting because Russia did not indicate any willingness to change their position.”

Nevertheless, he urged Russia to return to compliance over the next week and failing that, during the six-month period it would take the U.S. to leave the INF treaty.

Stoltenberg rejected Russian claims that U.S. Predator drones and ballistic missiles used for target practice violate the INF.

“Russia continues to raise this issue to deflect attention from the real issue,” he said. “There are no new U.S. missiles in Europe, but there are new Russian missiles in Europe.”

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