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US, Russia to hold arms talks next week in move to preserve New START

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., May 3, 2017. Defense Department officials cited the need for consistent congressional support for modernizing and maintaining effective nuclear deterrent systems during testimony on Capitol Hill, June 7, 2017. (2nd Lt. William Collette/U.S. Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States says disarmament talks between its top arms control negotiator and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will take place next week in Austria.

U.S. envoy Marshall Billingslea will travel to Austria on June 22-23 to meet with Ryabkov “on mutually agreed topics related to the future of arms control,” the State Department said in a statement on June 19.

The statement also said the United States has extended an invitation to China to join the discussions, “and has made clear the need for all three countries to pursue arms control negotiations in good faith.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for China to join the United States and Russia in talks on a nuclear arms control agreement to replace the 2010 New START accord (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty).

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New START, which imposes limits on U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear arms to no more than 1,550 each, expires in February.

China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal, most recently on June 10.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said then that Beijing hadn’t changed its previous stance that it was not going to join the talks.

While China has been expanding its nuclear arsenal, is still far smaller than the U.S. and Russian programs.

The United States had voiced hopes that Russia could convince China to join the negotiations. But Ryabkov said on June 9 that his answer to the question of whether it would be possible to bring China to the table “would be a flat and straightforward no.”

Trump has pulled out of a number of international agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Iran nuclear deal.

The Trump administration, however, voiced a general interest in preserving New START.

Russia has called on the United States to make a “positive” proposal ahead of the meeting.

“We need to hear loudly and clearly what this administration wants, how it believes it would be possible to do something positive and not just to dismantle one arms control treaty or arrangement after another,” Ryabkov said on June 9.