The talks come less than a year before the expiration of New START, the last remaining nuclear arms control deal.
The United States will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia – the last remaining non-proliferation treaty between the two nations, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Thursday.
The New START, which came into force in 2011, limits the number of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles that each country can deploy. It was due to expire next month.
“The president has long been clear that the New START Treaty is in the national security interest of the United States. This extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time,” Psaki told reporters during a briefing.
Psaki’s comments come a day after Moscow said it sought a five-year extension of the treaty with no additional conditions so Russia and the US can “seriously and jointly search for answers to questions of international security and strategic stability”.
The Trump administration made a late bid to extend the treaty, but its conditions were rejected by Russia.
Psaki noted that the treaty, which is the last remaining since the Trump administration withdrew from two others, was “an anchor of strategic stability between our two countries”.
She said the extension comes while President Joe Biden asked the intelligence community to look closely into Russia’s cyberattacks, its alleged interference in the 2020 election and other actions.
Despite the extension proposal, Psaki said Biden was committed to holding Russia “to account for its reckless and adversarial actions”, such as its alleged involvement in the Solar Winds hacking event, 2020 election interference, the chemical poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny and the widely reported allegations that Russia may have offered bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon’s chief spokesman, John Kirby, said allowing the treaty to lapse would have weakened US understanding of Russia’s nuclear forces.
“Extending the treaty’s limitations on stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons until 2026 allows time and space for our two nations to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks to Americans,” he said. “And the department stands ready to support our colleagues in the State Department as they effect this extension and explore those new arrangements.”
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was to convey the extension proposal to Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, on Thursday afternoon, according to an official familiar with the matter, who spoke to The Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity to discuss private diplomatic conversations.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier on Thursday called on the US and Russia to extend the treaty and to later broaden it.
“We should not end up in a situation with no limitation on nuclear warheads, and New START will expire within days,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels. The treaty expires on February 5.
Stoltenberg underlined that “an extension of the New START is not the end, it’s the beginning of our efforts to further strengthen arms control”.
The treaty, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads.
Former President Donald Trump had been highly critical of New START, asserting that it put the US at a disadvantage. His administration waited until last year to engage Russia in substantive talks on the treaty’s future. Trump insisted that China be added to the treaty, but Beijing rejected the idea out of hand.
Trump’s lead negotiator on New START discussions with the Russians, Marshall S Billingslea, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Biden would be making a mistake by quickly agreeing to a five-year extension.
“Hope this is not true,” he wrote, referring to news reports of Thursday’s proposal. “If so, shows stunning lack of negotiating skill. Took just 24 hours for Biden team to squander most significant leverage we have over Russia.”
Hope this is not true. If so, shows stunning lack of negotiating skill. Took just 24 hours for Biden team to squander most significant leverage we have over Russia. https://t.co/7D6ShWZz5b
— USArmsControl (@USArmsControl) January 21, 2021