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Washington rejects Moscow’s idea of lawyers’ meeting on New START — diplomat

According to the senior Russian diplomat, there is no time left to draft any meaningful agreements before the expiration of New START however strongly the parties concerned may wish to do this
Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Bobylev/TASS
Russian Foreign Ministry
© Sergei Bobylev/TASS

MOSCOW, February 27. /TASS/. Moscow suggested holding a meeting of Russian and US lawyers to discuss the possibility of extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), but the United States officially rejected the idea, Deputy Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Vladimir Leontyev said at a roundtable discussion on New START, hosted by the Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) on Thursday.

"The Americans are avoiding conversations on the treaty’s extension. They have decided for some reason that it is a very simple process that would take only a few days. We suggested holding a lawyers’ meeting to compare our positions on the issue and work out an understanding of the technical aspect of the extension process. However, the Americans issued an official refusal just recently," he pointed out.

According to the senior Russian diplomat, the non-extension of New START seems to be quite possible.

"A treaty that makes it possible to somehow control and limit the nuclear arsenals of the world’s two biggest powers will cease to exist. One can say that this is how the almost 50-year era of arms control as we know it will come to an end," Leontyev emphasized.

Draft agreements

It is already impossible to draft any meaningful agreements before the expiration of New START however strongly the parties concerned may wish to do this, Vladimir Leontyev told the roundtable meeting.

"No follow-up agreement is in sight and it is clear that there is no chance of producing anything meaningful over the time left, however strongly the parties concerned may wish to do this," Leontyev lamented. Russia remains committed to the idea of renewing New START, he added. Leontyev believes that the former US presidential national security adviser, John Bolton, was very wrong in that any agreement could be drafted and finalized in a couple of weeks.

The New START treaty, he recalled, had taken about a year to draft, even though it was a relatively simple deal. "In many respects it was an adapted and simplified version of the previous strategic arms agreement. There were no fundamental innovations," he commented. "Now the situation is far more complex."

"The Russian side has put forward official proposals for looking into the matter of the treaty’s prolongation. We are prepared for this. Without any preconditions. Naturally, this does not mean that we lift the problems that we have with the United States’ compliance with some rather important provisions of that treaty. These questions remain. But nevertheless, we proceed from the understanding that the treaty must be prolonged," he added.

Transparency and predictability

Leontyev believes that the agreement’s prolongation will make it possible to preserve the current level of transparency and predictability in bilateral relations for another five years and give time for discussing the possibility of working out some new approaches to arms control, including new technologies and systems of the future.

"The Americans keep quiet. Their only answer is no decision has been made yet," Leontyev stated.

About the United States’ idea of applying the treaty to Russia’s new weapon systems and also of having China involved in the agreement, Leontyev said that it was utterly impossible.

"The treaty was conceived to encompass three types of weapons: intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers, as well as ICBM and SLBM launchers. It is technically impossible to include in it anything else. For this the treaty will have to be written anew," he warned. "For our part we have many questions that we could then address to the US side."

New START issue

New START, which came into force in 2011, limits Russia and the US to no more than 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers, no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers.

The Treaty is set to remain in effect for ten years (until 2021) unless a new document is signed to replace it. The document can also be extended for no more than five years (that is, until 2026) by mutual agreement of the parties.

Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington to avoid delaying a decision on extending New START. US President Donald Trump said in response to a TASS question on November 4, 2019, that the US would like to make a new arms control agreement with Russia and China, and maybe some other countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in turn, said in an interview with the Financial Times that if New START ceased to exist, the world would have no tools left to curb an arms race.