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U.S. Envoy Clarifies Comments About Potential Action On Controversial Russian Weapon

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U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison briefs the media ahead of a NATO defense ministers meeting at the alliance headquarters in Brussels on October 2.

A U.S. diplomat who warned that the United States might try to "take out" a missile Washington says Russia is developing in violation of a major treaty has clarified her comments, saying she was not referring to a preemptive strike.

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."

Hutchison, who made the statement on the eve of a meeting between Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his NATO counterparts, later clarified in a tweet she was "not talking about preemptively striking Russia."

"My point: Russia needs to return to INF Treaty compliance or we will need to match its capabilities to protect US & NATO interests. The current situation, with Russia in blatant violation, is untenable," she wrote.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Hutchison's original 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, who was appointed to the NATO post by President Donald Trump, 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."

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States had for some time argued that Moscow was not in compliance with the treaty.

"What Ambassador Hutchison was talking about was improving overall defense and deterrence posture," Nauert told a news conference. "The United States is committed to upholding its arms control obligations and expects Russia to do the very same thing," she said, adding that the U.S. was discussing the issue with its allies.

The remarks 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.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and TASS
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