Washington and Moscow reconciled their views on Tuesday on the future of the New Start nuclear disarmament treaty, which expires in early 2021, with the Russian offer of a “joint” nuclear warhead freeze that appears to join the US position.
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The Russian Foreign Ministry proposed in a press release to “extend for one year” the treaty, saying it is ready “jointly with the United States (…) to + freeze + over this period the number of nuclear warheads that each has “.
This freeze should not be accompanied by “any other additional requirement from the United States” and would “save time” in order to continue bilateral consultations on the future of nuclear arms control, adds Russian diplomacy.
Such an agreement would postpone the validity of the agreement until February 2022, when negotiations have not been successful so far and the US presidential election of November 3 could reshuffle the cards, depending on who is elected, Donald Trump or Joe Biden.
US negotiator Marshall Billingslea last week proposed an extension of the New Start Treaty for one year on condition that the two countries freeze their nuclear arsenals. He spoke of an “agreement in principle” but suffered immediate rebuff from Moscow, deeming these conditions “unacceptable”.
While the negotiations have been deadlocked for months, Washington welcomed this turnaround on Tuesday and said it was ready for an “immediate” meeting to “finalize an agreement”.
“We appreciate the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of arms control,” the US State Department said in a statement.
The New Start Treaty, concluded in 2010, keeps the arsenals of the two countries well below their Cold War level, limiting the number of strategic nuclear launchers deployed to 700 and the number of nuclear warheads to 1,550.
The Chinese question
The possible disappearance of this last major bilateral agreement governing part of the arsenals of the two geopolitical adversaries, negotiated at the time of Presidents Barak Obama and Dmitri Medvedev, gives rise to fears of the resurgence of an arms race. The relationship between the two giants is also in danger of further breaking down in a highly sensitive sector.
Russia and the United States together still hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, according to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
For months, Washington and Moscow have been negotiating bitterly to find common ground. Marshall Billingslea and Russian negotiator Sergei Riabkov met again last week in Helsinki, after which Mr. Billingslea said he felt Russia seemed ready for a compromise.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday offered to extend the current deal for at least a year but “unconditionally”, an offer immediately swept away by the United States.
The United States has insisted since the beginning of the negotiations that China join the discussions, stressing that the Chinese arsenal is developing at high speed. But Beijing, which considers that its arsenal is still much inferior to that of Moscow or Washington, refuses to participate in tripartite negotiations.
Washington has some 5,800 nuclear warheads in 2020 and Moscow has 6,375, compared with 320 for Beijing, 290 for Paris and 215 for London, according to the Swedish Sipri institute.
This is the last nuclear agreement still in force after Donald Trump reneged on three: that on Iranian nuclear power, the INF treaty on medium-range land missiles and the Open Skies treaty aimed at verifying the military movements and the arms limitation measures of the signatory countries.