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Biden adviser: US in private talks with Russia over nuclear weapons to avoid public ‘tit for tat’

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday said the U.S. has had private, high-level talks with leaders in Moscow about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, explaining the Biden administration is trying to prevent a “rhetorical tit for tat” between the two countries. 

“If Russia crosses this line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia. The United States will respond decisively,” Sullivan said in an interview with moderator Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” 

“Now, in private channels we have spelled out in greater detail exactly what that would mean, but we want to be able to have the credibility of speaking directly to senior leadership in Russia and laying out for them what the consequences would be without getting into a rhetorical tit for tat publicly,” Sullivan said.

Putin last week threatened the use of nuclear weapons, further heightening growing concerns about their potential use in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

Sullivan on Sunday said the U.S. has been in contact with senior Russian officials “frequently” over the last few months, and as recently as in the last few days — despite worries since the start of the war that the U.S. was struggling to get in touch with Moscow.

The top White House national security aide said administration officials have been “careful to protect the timing and the content” of conversations with the Kremlin. 

“We have not wanted to indicate exactly what those channels look like because we want to be able to protect them so that we have the continuing ability to reach Russia and tell them in no uncertain terms, for example, what the consequences would be, and they would be catastrophic if Russia went down the dark road of nuclear weapons use,” Sullivan said. 

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