Russia must scrap its 9M729 nuclear-capable cruise missiles and launchers or modify the weapons' range to return to compliance with a key Cold War-era arms control treaty and avert a U.S. pullout from the pact, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.
"Either you rid the system, rid the launcher or change the system where it doesn't exceed the range" in a verifiable manner, said U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson.
On Tuesday, the United States announced it was giving Russia 60 days to end what Washington charges is the missiles' violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or it would begin the process of a U.S. withdrawal from the pact.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, who briefed reporters with Thompson, said that a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty "does not mean we are walking away from arms control."
"We remain committed to arms control, but we need a reliable partner and do not have one in Russia on INF or for that matter on other treaties that it's violating," Huntsman said.
Moscow denies that the missile, which U.S. officials say can hit European targets with nuclear or conventional warheads, violates the INF Treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned that Russia would develop missiles banned by the accord if the United States exits the pact.
The United States and its European allies charge that what Moscow calls the 9M729 Novator cruise missile — designated the SSC8 by the NATO Western security alliance — breaches the treaty's range limit of 500 to 5,000 km (310 to 3,420 miles).
The treaty also bans the production and testing of missiles with such ranges and their launchers.