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U.S. reviewing whether Russian missile tests violate treaty

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Irel
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Irel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is reviewing whether Russia's testing of a new ground-launched cruise missile violates a key arms control treaty and has informed NATO about its concerns and discussed them with Moscow, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

The New York Times reported earlier on Thursday that American officials believe Russia began conducting flight tests of the missile as early as 2008, in what could be a violation of a 1987 treaty banning medium-range missiles.

One U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, confirmed the details in the Times report.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. government was reviewing whether a violation had occurred, saying the United States took questions about such treaties seriously.

"We have raised this issue with the Russians. That is true. I can confirm that," Psaki said. "When compliance questions arise we work to resolve them with our treaty partners and will continue to do so."

Officials at the Russian embassy in Washington were not immediately available for comment.

Critics in Congress called on President Barack Obama's administration to take a firm stand to enforce the treaty.

"The apparent violation of this treaty would put our allies at risk and be a major step backward in our post-Cold War relations," said Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, referring to the New York Times report.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was testing the United States.

The head of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, accused Obama's administration of ignoring congressional pleas with the Obama administration to take any cheating seriously.

Questions about the treaty add to headaches in U.S.-Russian relations, which include Iran, Syria, human rights and Russia's decision to give temporary asylum to American fugitive spy contractor Edward Snowden.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that if there were not concerns about a potential violation "we wouldn't have raised it" with the Russians.

The issue is being handled largely by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, Psaki said, although Secretary of State John Kerry has broadly raised compliance issues with Russia.

"We have briefed our NATO allies," Psaki told a briefing.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; editing by Andrew Hay)

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