Russia should not fear a pre-emptive strike by the United States, a top American diplomat said hours after she threatened to destroy illicit Russian cruise missiles.

“I was not talking about preemptively striking Russia,” Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. representative to NATO, tweeted Tuesday. “My point: [Russia] needs to return to INF Treaty compliance or we will need to match its capabilities to protect US & NATO interests.”

That message moderates her earlier warning that the United States might feel compelled “to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe.” Russia has deployed ground-based, intermediate-range cruise missiles that have that capacity, according to Western officials, in violation of a 1987 arms-control deal. But Russia denies the accusation and replied with a quick rebuke.

"It seems that people who make such statements do not understand the degree of their responsibility and the danger of such aggressive rhetoric,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “Who has this lady been authorized by to make such statements?”

Hutchison emphasized during the original remarks that she was referring to last-ditch scenarios if Russia persists in deploying the weapons.

“The countermeasures would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty,” she said. “So that would be the countermeasure eventually. We are trying not to do anything that would violate the treaty on our side, which allows research, but not going forward into development, and we are carefully keeping the INF Treaty requirements on our side, while Russia is violating.”

But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert echoed her more restrained call for an agreement over the cruise missiles.

“I think what Ambassador Hutchison was talking about was improving our overall defense and deterrence posture,” Nauert said. "The current situation where Russia is just blatantly violating our central tenet of the INF treaty is untenable. Our goal is Russian compliance. We go back and say that, time and time again, that Russian compliance is what we are seeking.”