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Russia cites challenges to reaching New START extension with US

The Minuteman III missile of Glory Trip GT-222 lights the sky launched by the Air Force 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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

The Kremlin says a possible one-year extension of the New START arms-control treaty beyond its current expiration in February would be aimed at buying time for the two sides to reach a new agreement instead of prolonging the current accord.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also reiterated on October 23 Moscow’s insistence that the U.S. side “avoid any extra conditions” in the current bid for a 12-month extension.

“It’s necessary to agree first, it’s necessary to avoid any extra conditions,” Peskov said. “We hope such an expert meeting will take place in the near future and that at least this [year] can be secured for difficult talks.”

Reports this week have suggested the gap between the two sides was narrowing since Washington last week rejected Moscow’s offer to unconditionally extend for a year the last major U.S.-Russian arms-control treaty.

U.S. officials said on October 20 that they were prepared “immediately” to meet with their Russian counterparts to finalize a deal to extend New START by one year after Moscow said it backed a U.S. proposal to freeze its nuclear-warhead totals over the period if Washington did the same and made no other demands.

“Hope has now emerged,” Peskov told Russian television on October 22, adding Moscow was looking to agree on the extension by the end of the year. “But this is not the hope that the treaty will live on. Rather, this is hope that we’ll be able to try to discuss its further viability.”

The RIA Novosti news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying the two sides still were not close to agreement.

Signed in 2010 to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) that went into effect in 1994, New START imposes limits on the two countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals.

Its terms say it can be extended for five years, which Moscow has said it is ready to do without preconditions.

A possible extension of the accord — even by one year — would mark a rare bright spot in the strained relationship between the two countries, while failure to extend it would remove the main pillar maintaining the nuclear balance between them.

The White House, which has already withdrawn from other arms-control treaties because it accused Moscow of violating them and felt the agreements benefited Russia more than the United States, has called for China to join Moscow and Washington to find a replacement for New START.

China, which has a small fraction of the nuclear weapons that Russia and the United States possess, has rejected the idea.

“We appreciate the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on October 20.

“The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same,” Ortagus added.

The United States and its allies have accused Russia of violating the now-defunct Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between Moscow and Washington.

Washington has also unilaterally exited Open Skies, a treaty that permitted the United States and Russia to conduct reconnaissance flights over each others territory.