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US warns Russia amid reports of new cruise missile
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 14, 2017

Flynn resignation has 'no impact' on US message to NATO: Pentagon chief
Brussels (AFP) Feb 14, 2017 - The resignation of President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, will have "no impact" on America's message to worried NATO partners, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said on Tuesday ahead of a key alliance meeting.

Flynn was forced from his key post late Monday amid allegations he had discussed US sanctions strategy with Russia's ambassador Sergey Kislyak before taking office.

US defence secretaries routinely visit NATO, but Mattis's trip is significant as he seeks to reassure allies -- rattled by Trump's past rhetoric on the alliance -- that America is not abandoning long-standing security doctrine to forge closer ties with Moscow.

"Frankly, this has no impact," Mattis told reporters as he flew to Brussels for a meeting of NATO defence ministers on Wednesday and Thursday.

"Obviously I haven't changed what I am heading there for. It doesn't change my message at all, and who is on the president's staff is who I will work with," Mattis said.

Flynn's departure marks a dramatic development in Trump's presidency and comes amid broad international concerns over Moscow's alleged meddling in foreign elections and Trump's friendliness towards Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And as a candidate, Trump made it clear that he has no sentimental attachment to NATO, arguing that European members don't pay their fair share and calling the alliance "obsolete."

Since his election, Trump has moderated his criticism and appointed in Mattis a strong supporter of allied cooperation.

Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, has worked extensively with international partners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unlike his boss, he is a fierce NATO advocate, and has said that if the alliance did not already exist, it would need to be created.

"This has been the most successful alliance in military history," he told reporters, praising NATO for its enduring role in helping the United States in Afghanistan.

The United States warned Russia to respect its arms control treaty obligations on Tuesday amid reports that Moscow has deployed a new cruise missile that may breach them.

According to the New York Times, Moscow has secretly deployed an operational ground-launched cruise missile unit of a type that contravenes a 1987 US-Russia arms control treaty.

The US State Department would not directly confirm the report, but expressed concern that Russia was in any case already in breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

"We do not comment on intelligence matters," acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said of the report.

But, citing a 2016 US treaty compliance report, Toner said Russia "remains in violation of its INF Treaty obligations."

This treaty, signed by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, bans ballistic missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

"We have made very clear our concerns about Russia's violation, the risks it poses to European and Asian security and our strong interest in returning Russia to compliance with the treaty," Toner said.

"We value the INF Treaty and believe it benefits the security of the United States, our allies, our partners and the Russian Federation."

The previous US administration under president Barack Obama has already complained that President Vladimir Putin's Russia violated the INF Treaty by testing a banned cruise missile.

Now, according to the Times' report, this missile has been deployed to active units, including one at a test site in Kapustin Yar in southwest Russia.

Putin has defended Russia's test program, arguing the United States is also in breach of the INF Treaty and that new missiles are needed to maintain the balance of power.

The United States and its NATO allies are deploying an anti-missile shield in eastern and central Europe that Moscow sees as a threat to its nuclear deterrent.

Washington insists the interceptor shield is designed to protect Europe from so-called "rogue states" such as Iran.



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