MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Friday proposed a one-year extension without conditions of the last major nuclear arms reduction accord between Russia and the United States.

The New START deal was signed in April 2010 but went into force in February 2011. It lasts for ten years but with a possible extension.

“I have a proposal — which is to extend the current agreement without any pre-conditions at least for one year to have an opportunity to conduct substantial negotiations,” Putin said at a meeting of his security council, according to a Kremlin statement.

At the meeting Putin asked Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to “formulate our position to try and get at least some sort of coherent answer from (the US) in the nearest future.” Tensions have raged for months over the fate of New START, which caps the number of nuclear warheads held by Washington and Moscow and expires on Feb 5, 2021.

Earlier this week the United States said it had reached an agreement in principle with Russia to extend New START, but Moscow quickly rejected US conditions.

US negotiator Marshall Billingslea has said Washington is ready to extend the treaty if Russia agrees to freeze its nuclear work in the interim. Moscow has said the proposal is unacceptable.

With three weeks to go before US elections in which US President Donald Trump is trailing in polls, the administration indicated it would support preserving the treaty for an unspecified period.

Putin said on Friday it would be “extremely sad” if the treaty, which was successful in containing an arms race, expired.

The agreement was signed in 2010 at the peak of hopes for a “reset” in relations between Russia and the United States, spearheaded by US president Barack Obama and then Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

But tensions rapidly built up again once Putin returned to the presidency from 2012.

Lavrov said Moscow favoured extending the current treaty for another five years without any conditions but was also ready to work out a new agreement with the Americans. He said Moscow had handed over to Washington some “concrete proposals”.

In response, Russia’s top diplomat said, the United States came up with a number of proposals described as pre-conditions necessary to extend New START.

These “numerous” proposals lie both outside the framework of the agreement and “outside our responsibility,” Lavrov said, without giving further details.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2020