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US, Russia close to deal on arms control - Department of State

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said earlier that if New START was extended for a year, Moscow was ready to freeze the number of its nuclear warheads for the same period, provided that the US did not put forward additional demands

WASHINGTON, October 22. /TASS/. The United States and Russia are close to a deal on a one-year extension of the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (known as the New START Treaty), US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea said in an interview with PBS broadcaster.

Billingslea posted a link to the interview on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

The journalist asked the diplomat whether the United States and Russia have an agreement on a one-year New START extension.

"We don't have an agreement yet, but, certainly, given the fact that Russia has moved in the direction of the United States' proposal for this cap, it looks like the two sides are getting much, much closer together. And we — I would say we're very, very close to a deal," Billingslea answered.

According to Billingslea, Moscow and Washington "are not talking about a treaty at that stage."

"What we're talking about is a political agreement that we would then, over the coming year, move to translate into that treaty," he explained.

"And, by that point, we will expect the Chinese to be a participant in that process," he added.

"First of all, we have been consistent and very clear all along that the next treaty must be trilateral. It must include the Chinese. By the way, the Russians have said exactly the same thing or very close to the same thing," he believes.

"The Russians have said the next treaty must be multilateral. And, of course, they would also include the British and the French in their formulation. So, we have been consistent on that front," US special presidential envoy for arms control said.

Future discussions

If Russia agrees to the United States’ initiative to freeze the number of nuclear warheads, it will set floor for future arms control discussions, Billingslea said.

When asked if Washington’s leverage was reduced by Democratic presidential nominee Joseph Biden’s statement that if he became president he would extend New START for five years, Billingslea answered in the negative. "First of all, the president, by signaling his intention to pursue this historic approach, and with the Russians now agreeing in principle, that now sets the floor for future arms control discussions. So, the Biden camp would have to rethink their entire approach, were they to take office," he pointed out. "But they're also going to need to be exposed to the kinds of information that we have, particularly the alarming intelligence we have regarding the secretive Chinese nuclear buildup," Billingslea added.

Verification measures

Billingslea noted that a potential agreement between the US and Russia on freezing the number of nuclear warheads should include verification measures.

When asked to comment on the fact that Russia had not publicly agreed to US demands for additional verification measures, Billingslea said that "that's one of the areas that we're going to really need to sit down and work together to finalize." "Russia has said that they will not agree to additional add-on measures. But I would simply say that verification is not an add-on when it comes to arms control. It's an intrinsic part, a fundamental part of any arms control deal, always has been," he pointed out.

He also emphasized the need for "effective verification." "We will work with the Russians to make sure it's a mutually agreeable solution," the US envoy noted. "Let me also say that verification historically has been something that the Russians also have wanted. And the idea of verification is actually in the materials that the Russians have proposed to us," Billingslea added.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that if New START was extended for a year, Moscow was ready to freeze the number of its nuclear warheads for the same period, provided that the US did not put forward additional demands. Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 16 called on the US to extend the treaty without preconditions but Washington later rejected the initiative.