On Tuesday, Moscow said it is ready to offer the US a mutual one-year freeze on both sides’ nuclear arsenals to extend the New START treaty for the same period. The freeze on warheads is a key US demand to extend the treaty, which will expire in February 2021 if an agreement is not reached.
“Russia offers to prolong New START for one year, and it is ready to take on the political obligation along with the USA to freeze the amount of its nuclear warheads for that period. This position can be implemented strictly on the understanding that the freezing of the warheads will not be accompanied by any additional demands from the side of the US,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus welcomed the statement and said the US is ready to finalize a deal with Moscow. “We appreciate the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control,” Ortagus said in a statement. “The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same.”
A senior Trump administration official told The Wall Street Journal that the US and Russia are close to making a deal. “We are very, very close to a deal,” the official said. “Now that the Russians have agreed to a warhead freeze, I do not see why we cannot work out the remaining issues in the coming days.”
The New START limits the number of warheads each side can have deployed at 1,550. But the mutual freeze would cap all warheads in each country’s arsenal, including those in storage, making verification difficult.
The Journal quoted Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association on the difficulties of verification. “A freeze on all warheads has never been done before,” Reif said. “Defining and verifying such a freeze is far from a simple matter.”
According to the Journal, under the administration’s plan, each side would declare the number of warheads they have deployed on launchers of all ranges and in storage and pledge not to exceed that number.
The Trump administration said the US isn’t demanding that a verification system be in place before the New START expires in February. But the US wants to begin technical discussions before that time on how to implement verification.
Talks between the US and Russia to extend the New START have been ongoing for months. Moscow has offered to extend the treaty for five years with no preconditions, as the agreement allows. But the Trump administration has made additional demands, although it seems the US has dropped the more unreasonable ones for now.
The purpose of a temporary extension is to buy time to negotiate a future treaty that would replace the New START. The Trump administration says a future pact should include China. But Beijing has no interest in trilateral arms control since its nuclear arsenal is much smaller than the US and Russia’s.
The Trump administration is looking to reach an agreement with Russia to secure a foreign policy victory ahead of November’s presidential election. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s policy plan says he will pursue an extensions of the New START and use it as a foundation for new arms control treaties.