Donald Trump's national security advisor John Bolton insisted at meetings with top Russian officials Monday that Moscow has been violating a Cold War-era nuclear treaty the US president wants to abandon.
Bolton, who is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday, also implied the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) could not be salvaged.
He was visiting Russia after Trump sparked concern globally at the weekend by saying he wanted to jettison the pact which bans intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles.
Signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, the INF resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.
On Monday, Bolton discussed the fate of the treaty with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and spent "nearly five hours" in talks with Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev, a spokesman for the council told AFP.
Speaking after his meeting with Patrushev, Bolton said the Russians had insisted that Moscow did not violate the treaty.
"The position was very firmly announced by Russia that they did not believe that they were breaching the INF treaty. In fact they said: 'You are breaching the INF treaty'," Bolton said in an interview with Kommersant, a Russian broadsheet.
"You can't bring somebody into compliance who does not think they are in breach," he said, adding the treaty seems to have run its course.
"We don't think that withdrawal from the treaty is what causes the problem. We think it's what Russia has been doing in violation of the treaty that's the problem."
Bolton said Washington did not want to be the only country bound by the treaty and cited a "very real" threat from China.
'More questions than answers'
Russia has warned that abandoning the agreement would be a major blow to global security.
Moscow was ready to work with the United States to salvage the agreement, the Russian Security Council said after the meeting between Patrushev and Bolton.
The two men also discussed a possible extension by five years of the New START arms control treaty, which expires in 2021, the Security Council said.
Bolton told Kommersant that Washington wanted to "resolve the INF issue first".
The Russian foreign ministry released a picture of Lavrov talking to a grinning Bolton, and said the two men discussed bilateral cooperation, the fight against terror, and "maintaining strategic stability".
Trump on Saturday claimed Russia had violated the treaty for "many years".
"And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we're not allowed to," he said.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected claims that Moscow has violated the pact, instead accusing Washington of doing so, and called Bolton's upcoming meeting with Putin important.
"There are more questions than answers," he told journalists.
EU, China concerned
Trump's announcement has raised global concerns, with the European Commission urging the United States and Russia to pursue talks to preserve the treaty and China calling on Washington to "think twice".
"The US and the Russian Federation need to remain in a constructive dialogue to preserve this treaty and ensure it is fully and verifiably implemented," said Maja Kocijancic, the EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security policy.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said a unilateral withdrawal from the treaty "will have a multitude of negative effects."
Bolton, however, said Britain, Japan, and a number of other countries supported the US position.
Analysts have warned that the latest rift between Moscow and Washington could have lamentable consequences, dragging Russia into a new arms race.
Putin last week raised eyebrows by saying Russians would "go to heaven" in the event of nuclear war and that Moscow would not use nuclear weapons first.
"The aggressor will have to understand that retaliation is inevitable, that it will be destroyed and that we, as victims of aggression, as martyrs, will go to heaven," he said.
"They will simply croak because they won't even have time to repent."
The Trump administration has complained of Moscow's deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, which Washington says fall under the treaty's ban on missiles that can travel distances of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500 and 5,500 kilometres).
US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. The two states are also at odds over Russian support for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria's civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.
Putin and Trump will both be in Paris on November 11 to attend commemorations marking 100 years since the end of World War I.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)