US sees new START treaty as way to engage China on arms control

Official says US will urge China to join the effort to reduce nuclear arms stockpiles.

A US official has called for a new arms control drive that 'covers more weapons, and eventually more countries' [File: Thomas Peter/Pool via Reuters]

The Biden administration views the New START Treaty clinched with Russia this week as the beginning of engagement on strategic issues and urges China to join the effort to reduce nuclear arms stockpiles, a US envoy has said.

The United States and Russia announced on Wednesday they had extended the New START  (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement for five years, preserving the last treaty limiting deployments of the world’s two largest strategic nuclear arsenals.

Robert Wood, US ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, in a speech on Thursday to the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament called for a new arms control drive that “covers more weapons, and eventually more countries”.

“The United States will also seek to engage China on nuclear arms control and risk reduction. I hope that China will join us in that effort,” said Wood, who also serves as US Commissioner for the New START Treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission.

International welcome

Russian Ambassador Gennady Gatilov, a former deputy foreign minister, also took the floor at the Geneva talks to praise the treaty extension.

Li Song, China’s ambassador to the forum, welcomed the bilateral agreement, noting the US and Russia are “the largest nuclear powers in the world”.

“China hopes to work on a basis of parity and mutual respect with all nuclear powers, including the Russian Federation and the United States, to engage in bilateral dialogue on security, strengthening mutual security measures, boosting transparency and trust,” Li told the gathering.

Germany’s Ambassador Peter Beerwerth said that the renewed US-Russian pact “sends out an important signal for the year 2021” and demonstrated that “negative trends can be reversed through political goodwill”.

“It also paves the way for its further development, which is very much needed, notably in light of the growing arsenals (of) some nuclear powers,” Beerwerth said.

The START treaty was set to expire on February 5, 2021, and its extension was not guaranteed under the previous administration of President Donald Trump.

Trump took the US out of the Open Skies treaty, which created a programme for unarmed surveillance flights over the territory of signatory nations, currently 35.

Before leaving office, Trump pushed for China to join the treaty, intimating the US would withdraw if Beijing declined, which it did.

Trump had criticised the treaties, saying they put the US at a disadvantage.

Ned Price, a US State Department spokesperson, told reporters on Wednesday it “is manifestly in our interest to have a full five-year extension of the new START agreement”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies