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Time is running out to save the INF treaty, a cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as he briefed reporters following the meeting of a NATO-Russia Council on Friday.
"We have not seen any signs of a breakthrough," Stoltenberg said.
"We must prepare for a world without INF, which will be less stable," he added.
In a Tweet announcing the meeting last week, Stoltenberg said it was "part of our continued political dialogue, to address Ukraine, the INF Treaty, transparency and risk reduction."
Barring a last-minute reversal by Russia, which NATO does not expect, the United States is set to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on August 2, citing Russia’s development of a missile that breaks the accord as the reason.
Moscow said it is fully compliant with the INF treaty, negotiated by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
Last week, NATO defence ministers considered how to deter Russia from launching a missile attack at short notice on Europe if the landmark treaty against land-based nuclear warheads collapses next month.
“Ministers have agreed that NATO will respond should Russia fail to return to compliance,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the meeting in Brussels.
“They will have to bear the full responsibility for the demise of the treaty,” although he said NATO would not place nuclear-capable, land-based, medium-range missiles in Europe, as happened in the 1980s.
The missile dispute marks a further worsening of East-West ties that have deteriorated since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and has prompted fears of an arms race between Russia, the United States and China.
Stoltenberg said defence ministers looked at options including more exercises, using conventional weapons, as well as improving intelligence, surveillance and air defence.
Diplomats said that flights of F16 warplanes and B52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear warheads and re-positioning sea-based missile systems were also under consideration.
Such steps are meant to underline NATO’s determination to protect Europe and raise the economic and military costs for Russia of any possible missile attack.