Saturday, October 24, 2020

US rejects Putin’s offer to extend nuclear arms treaty

US rejects Putin’s offer to extend nuclear arms treaty

The Trump administration has rejected an offer by Vladimir Putin for a one-year extension of a crucial nuclear treaty with Washington, describing it as a “non-starter”.

The offer to extend New Start, a 10-year bilateral accord that limits US and Russian nuclear warheads, was made by Mr Putin at a meeting of his security council.

He said it would be “exceedingly sad” if New Start expired on February 5 and offered to “extend the existing agreement without preconditions for a year at least”.

But Robert O’Brien, US national security adviser, rejected the offer, saying the freeze would not cover so-called tactical warheads, which the US alleges makes up 55 per cent of Russia’s arsenal.

“President Putin’s response today to extend New Start without freezing nuclear warheads is a non-starter,” he said, adding the Trump administration had expected Moscow to accept a US proposal to extend the treaty and freeze all warhead stockpiles for a year.

“We hope that Russia will re-evaluate its position before a costly arms race ensues,” he said.

This is the second time the Trump administration has rejected an offer from Russia, with Moscow previously offering to extend New Start for five years without preconditions. The US wants a more expansive deal as well as the inclusion of China in nuclear accords.

The latest rejection comes as the White House tries to score foreign policy wins to boost Mr Trump in the final stretch of the election campaign as the president tries to narrow Mr Biden’s lead in national polls.

Mr Trump said this month that US troops “should” return home from Afghanistan by Christmas, and claimed last month that “five or six” more countries were ready to strike US-brokered deals to normalise relations with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said a short extension of the New Start treaty would be “infinitely preferable” to expiration. But it would be better for both sides to extend the treaty for a full five years to “provide a more secure environment for Washington and Moscow to create new and expanded agreements,” she added. 

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said US intransigence over “quite a large number of [US] preconditions that go beyond both the treaty itself and our competence” had led to a “critical situation” where “work on extending the treaty without preconditions that are not contained in it has basically not even begun”. 

He warned that Russia would be left without “any sort of other instrument that ensures any kind of joint approaches to strategic stability” after US withdrawal from a series of other treaties. “Everything else has either already been destroyed or the Americans are offering to end it,” he said.

Mr Putin said Russia was willing to discuss China’s involvement and restrictions on new Russian hypersonic weapons, as well as Moscow’s own concerns over US missile defence and a conventionally armed long-range strategic cannon.

“Obviously, we have new weapons systems that the American side doesn’t have, at least not yet,” he said. “But we are not refusing to discuss that side of the issue either.”

Mr O’Brien revived talks when he met his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva this month. The encounter was followed by talks in Helsinki between Marshall Billingslea, the US presidential envoy for arms control, and deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov.

The gap between the two sides was evident on Tuesday after Mr Ryabkov said the US stance was “unacceptable” — hours after Mr Billingslea said the US believed there was “an agreement in principle at the highest levels of our two governments”.

Andrei Baklitsky, senior research fellow at Moscow’s MGIMO university, wrote on Twitter: “One thing is clear: no deal for Trump before the elections. It’s either a one-year extension of the [New Start treaty] or nothing.”

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