WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden has proposed to Russia a five-year extension of a nuclear arms treaty that is otherwise set to expire on Feb 5, the White House said on Thursday.
The US president proposed the extension even as he asked the intelligence community to look closely into Russia’s cyber attacks, its alleged interference in the Nov 3 election and other actions, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Moscow has said for some time that it would welcome an extension of the New START treaty, which limits the number of US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons.
The Trump administration made a late bid to extend the treaty, but its conditions were rejected by Russia.
Washington’s allies, particularly in Europe, are sure to applaud the new president’s proposal, which also provides an early signal of his intent to pursue arms control.
Psaki, the press secretary, noted that a five-year extension was permitted by the treaty and it makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial, as it is at this time.
She called the treaty, which is the last remaining arms control pact between Washington and Moscow since the Trump administration withdrew from two others, an anchor of strategic stability between the two countries.
Despite the extension proposal, Psaki said Biden was committed to holding Russia to account for its “reckless and adversarial actions”, such as its alleged involvement in the Solar Winds hacking event, election interference, the chemical poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny and the widely reported allegations that Russia may have offered bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon’s chief spokesman, John Kirby, said allowing the treaty to lapse would have weakened US understanding of Russia’s nuclear forces.
Extending the treaty’s limitations on stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons until 2026 allows time and space to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks to Americans, he said.
“And the department stands ready to support our colleagues in the State Department as they effect this extension and explore those new arrangements.”
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier on Thursday called on the United States and Russia to extend the treaty and to later broaden it.
“We should not end up in a situation with no limitation on nuclear warheads, and New START will expire within days,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
Stoltenberg underlined that an extension of the New START “is not the end, it’s the beginning of our efforts to further strengthen arms control”.
The treaty, signed in 2010 by president Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads.
Obama won Senate ratification of the treaty with a commitment to move ahead with a vast and enormously expensive recapitalisation of the US nuclear force. That programme, which some Democrats in Congress call excessive, is likely to be further scrutinised by the Biden administration.
Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2021