Arms control talks between the US and Russia resumed in Helsinki on Monday as the fate of the New START hangs in the balance. Earlier reports indicated the negotiations were not going well, with the US demanding unreasonable concessions from Moscow. But a Trump administration official told The Wall Street Journal that the two sides are making progress and could agree on the framework for a new treaty soon.
“This is the first time the US has heard concrete proposals from the Russian Federation,” the official said after Monday’s talks. “We have an agreement on the way forward in terms of form. Where we have a lot of work to do is in terms of substance.”
President Trump’s envoy for arms control, Marshal Billingslea, said in a tweet that Monday’s meeting brought “important progress.”
The New START limits the number of nuclear warheads each power can have deployed and will expire in February 2021. Russia has offered to extend the treaty for five years with no preconditions, but the US is demanding Russia agree to a framework for a new treaty in exchange for a temporary renewal of New START.
According to the Trump administration official, the new framework would include a politically binding commitment to freeze nuclear warheads on each side. The official did not offer any more details on the talks.
Last week, Moscow’s arms control negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said the two sides were far apart on key issues. “We are not going to buy this extension of the New START at any price, especially not at the price which the US wants us to pay,” Ryabkov said.
Ryabkov’s comments came after Billingslea threatened Russia and said the price to extend New START “will go up” if Moscow does not agree to the terms before the US presidential election.
According to earlier reports, the Trump administration’s demands include increased verification, a larger scope on what warheads the treaty limits, and a commitment from Russia that China would be involved. Moscow’s position on including China is that any multilateral arms control treaty would have to be separate from New START, or its replacement.
The New START is the last nuclear arms control treaty between the two powers. If it expires, there will be no limit on the US and Russia’s nuclear arsenal.