THE US envoy to Nato has said Russia must halt the development of new missiles that could carry nuclear warheads and warned that the US could “take out” the system if it becomes operational.

Nato fears the 9M729 system contravenes the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

The Cold War-era pact bans an entire class of weapons – all land-based cruise missiles with a range between 500-5500 kilometres (310-3410 miles) – and the alliance says that the Russian system fits into that category.

“It is time now for Russia to come to the table and stop the violations,” US ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters in Brussels on the eve of a meeting between US defence secretary Jim Mattis and his Nato counterparts.

She said that if the system “became capable of delivering”, the US “would then be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America”.

Washington has shared intelligence evidence with its 28 Nato allies that Russia is developing the ground-fired cruise missile and that the system could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice.

Russia has claimed that US missile defences violate the pact.

In the past, the Obama administration worked to convince Moscow to respect the INF treaty but seemed to make no progress.

Mattis, however, said after four years of diplomatic effort, the US is living by the treaty and Russia is not.

Hutchison added that the US does not want to violate the treaty but that Russia could force its hand.

“There will come a point in the future in which America will determine that it has to move forward with a development phase that is not allowed by the treaty right now,” she stated.

Washington have urged Nato allies to ramp up diplomatic pressure on the Russian government.

Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said “Russia has not provided any credible answers on this new missile”, adding that the INF is a “crucial element” of transatlantic security which is now “in danger because of Russia’s actions”.