With less than four months until the New START Treaty expires, the US said on Tuesday (13 October) it had reached an “agreement in principle” with Russia on extending the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms-control accord between Washington and Moscow. The Russian side, however, rejected the conditions as “unacceptable”.
“We are in fact willing to extend the New START treaty for some period of time provided that they, in return, agree to a limitation – a freeze – on their nuclear arsenal,” said US Special Envoy for Arms Control, Ambassador Marshall Billingslea.
The 2010 New Strategic Arms Treaty (New START), which caps the number of deployed long-range nuclear warheads each country can have, is set to expire in February 2021, unless Washington and Moscow agree to roll it over.
“We believe that there is an agreement in principle at the highest levels of our two governments,” Billingslea said, adding that Moscow still needed to give final approval to the “gentlemen’s agreement” and hammer out further details.
“We are ready to strike this deal. We can strike it tomorrow, in fact. But Moscow is going to have to show the political will to do so as well,” he said at an event organised by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank.
Billingslea also said Washington was still insisting on the participation of China, whose nuclear program is progressing fast.
“Everything we agree with the Russians must be framed and must be formatted in a way that allows us to extend that arrangement to the Chinese when they are finally brought to the negotiating table,” Billingslea said.
The proposal, however, has previously already been rejected by Beijing, which asked for other nuclear powers like the UK and France to be included as well.
Billingslea said the US side was still seeking verification measures from Russia and was willing to undertake reciprocal steps. “If we know anything about the Russians it is that they are serial treaty violators,” he said.
Moscow denies agreement
As he spoke, however, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denied an agreement, even in principle, had been reached and called the US START proposals “unacceptable”.
“The US position in favour of freezing has long been known to us, it is unacceptable for us,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
“This is not because we are against freezing but because we need to deal with the problems of strategic stability in a complex environment: we need to deal with launch vehicles, we need to deal with space, we need to deal with missile defense – a system that the US is creating – it is necessary to deal with their new strategic range carriers in conventional equipment,” Ryabkov added.
No presents to Trump
Ryabkov also said the United States would not receive from Russia any agreement on strategic offensive arms “timed to coincide with their elections” on 3 November.
“If the Americans need to report to their superiors something about which they allegedly agreed with the Russian Federation before their elections, they will not get it,” Ryabkov said.
Washington and Moscow have been engaged in strategic stability talks in recent months related to their nuclear arsenals and the extension of the landmark accord.
Last week, delegations headed by Billingslea and Ryabkov met in Helsinki for yet another round of talks, but it was unclear whether there had been any real breakthrough.
The Kremlin said last Wednesday (7 October) that it saw no cause for optimism in Russia’s talks with the US over extending the major nuclear arms control pact and wanted the negotiations to be more successful.
Europeans call for deal
Earlier on Tuesday, a group of over 75 European parliamentarians from more than 20 European capitals, the European Parliament, and NATO Parliamentary Assembly jointly called on their US Congressional counterparts to take bipartisan action in urging the US government to agree to the extension of New START.
In their letter, the European diplomats and parliamentarians are calling on the US Congress to convince the US administration to extend New START.
“As officials who strive to protect the health and security of millions of European citizens, we feel distressed by the possibility that New START may lapse in less than six months,” they wrote to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees.
Signatories expressed support for the Trump administration’s goal of negotiating a new treaty with Moscow that covers more weapons and could also include China but stressed there might be not enough time to renegotiate such a complex new treaty with more actors.
“Extending the duration of New START is not an end,” they wrote. “It is a mutually beneficial tool for maintaining stability, transparency, and predictability while we write a new chapter of arms control together.”
They also recalled comments made by NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made in summer this year, who urged not to “end up in a situation where we have no agreement whatsoever regulating the number of nuclear weapons in the world.”