Brussels, Belgium - The United States warned Russia on Tuesday it will withdraw from a major Cold War treaty limiting mid-range nuclear arms if Moscow does not dismantle missiles that Washington says breach it within 60 days.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would no longer be bound by the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty unless Moscow withdraws a new system that has threatened to trigger an arms race.
NATO said it was now "up to Russia" to save the deal, seen by many as an important part of the global arms control architecture, and alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said it was time to prepare for its demise.
"The United States today declares Russia in material breach of the treaty and we will suspend our obligations as a remedy in 60 days unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance," Pompeo said after talks with fellow NATO foreign ministers.
"Russia's actions gravely undermine American national security and that of our allies and partners. It makes no sense for the United States to remain in a treaty that constrains our ability to respond to Russia's violations."
The US and NATO say Russia's 9M729 system, also known by the designation SSC-8, violates the INF treaty, which banned ground launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.
In October, President Donald Trump declared the United States would pull out of the treaty and build up America's nuclear stockpile "until people come to their senses".
But on Monday, the US leader said he wants talks with his Chinese and Russian counterparts Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin "to head off a major and uncontrollable Arms Race".
The INF was a bilateral treaty between the US and the then Soviet Union, so it puts no restrictions on other major military actors like China.
Pompeo said there was no reason why the US "should continue to cede this crucial military advantage" to rival powers.
After the 60-day deadline expires, the US will begin the six-month process of formally withdrawing from the INF treaty.
Until then, Pompeo said, the US would not "test or produce or deploy any systems" that would breach the treaty.
The US won strong backing for its position from the rest of the NATO allies, who said in a joint statements that it was "now up to Russia to preserve the INF treaty".
"Allies have emphasised that the situation whereby the United States and other parties fully abide by the Treaty and Russia does not, is not sustainable," they warned.
"Russia's violation of the INF Treaty erodes the foundations of effective arms control and undermines Allied security. This is part of Russia's broader pattern of behaviour that is intended to weaken the overall Euro-Atlantic security architecture."AFP