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Moscow missile irks US

Washington, Jan. 30: The US informed its Nato allies this month that Russia had tested a new ground-launched cruise missile, raising concerns about Moscow’s compliance with a landmark arms control accord.

American officials believe Russia began conducting flight tests of the missile as early as 2008. Such tests are prohibited by the treaty banning medium-range missiles that was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader at the time, and that has long been viewed as one of the bedrock accords that brought an end to the Cold War.

Beginning in May, Rose Gottemoeller, the state department’s senior arms control official, has repeatedly raised the missile tests with Russian officials, who have responded that they investigated the matter and consider the case to be closed. But Obama administration officials are not yet ready to formally declare the tests of the missile, which has not been deployed, to be a violation of the 1987 treaty.

With President Obama pledging to seek deeper cuts in nuclear arms, the state department has been trying to find a way to resolve the compliance issue, preserve the treaty and keep the door open to future arms control accords.

“The US never hesitates to raise treaty compliance concerns with Russia, and this issue is no exception,” Jen Psaki, the state department spokeswoman, said. “There’s an ongoing review process, and we wouldn’t want to speculate or prejudge the outcome.”

Other officials, who asked not to be identified because they were discussing internal deliberations, said there was no question the missile tests ran counter to the treaty and the administration had already shown considerable patience with the Russians. And some members of Congress, who have been briefed on the tests on a classified basis for well over a year, have been pressing the White House for a firmer response.

A public dispute over the tests could prove to be a major new irritant in the already difficult relationship between the US and Russia. In recent months, that relationship has been strained by differences over how to end the fighting in Syria; the temporary asylum granted to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor; and, most recently, the turmoil in Ukraine.

The treaty banning the testing, production and possession of medium-range missiles has long been regarded as a major step toward curbing the American and Russian arms race. “The importance of this treaty transcends numbers,” Reagan said during the treaty signing, adding that it underscored the value of “greater openness in military programs and forces.”

 
 
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