U.S., Russian Envoys End First Day of Talks on Nuclear Arms Treaty
(Source: Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty; issued June 22, 2020)
The United States and Russia on June 22 opened two days of talks on their last remaining nuclear arms control, the New START treaty, which caps the number of deployed long-range nuclear warheads each can have.

The top U.S. arms control negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov headed the delegations in Vienna, with little prospect of an imminent agreement on New START, which expires in February 2021.

Russia has called for an extension of the accord limiting Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to 1,550 deployed long-range nuclear warheads each.

However, Washington has said that its bilateral arms control agreements with Moscow are outdated and that it wants Beijing to be included in any future agreements on nuclear weapons.

China has repeatedly rejected attempts to get it to join the talks. While the country has been expanding its nuclear arsenal, it is still far smaller than the U.S. and Russian programs.

Russia's UN envoy in the Austrian capital, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted just before 7 p.m. local time that the meeting in Vienna had ended, adding: "Official comments will follow."

Both Billingslea and Ryabkov were guarded in their statements as they arrived for the discussions.

"We'll see," the U.S. envoy said when asked what he expected to come of the talks. He declined to elaborate on their content.

Ryabkov was equally cautious, telling reporters, "Let's see, let's see. We are always very hopeful."

Ahead of the talks, Billingslea posted on Twitter a photo of Chinese flags at empty chairs at the Vienna negotiating table.

"China is a no-show. Beijing still hiding behind 'Great Wall of Secrecy' on its crash nuclear build-up, and so many other things. We will proceed with Russia, notwithstanding," he wrote.

On June 20, Ryabkov told Interfax that Russia has run out of arguments for extending the pact but will still raise the idea.

"We have repeatedly explained to the Americans why we think a decision in favor of an extension is right," he said at the time. "We won't find any more arguments for what we have already told them many times. Of course, we will use the opportunity to remind of our position."

While Russia would consider it "right and logical" to extend New START, "by and large this treaty is not everything," Ryabkov told Interfax.

Moscow, however, has repeatedly warned of the danger of a new arms race if the treaty is not renewed.

Ultimately, it will be up to what U.S. President Donald Trump's government decides, he added.

Trump has pulled out of or let expire a number of international agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Iran nuclear deal. But his administration has voiced a general interest in preserving New START.

Russia, whose nuclear arsenal is a key element of power while it is vastly outspent on defense by the United States, says it wants to ensure parity with Washington.

It also wants a broader discussion with Washington on arms control, including on U.S. threats to resume nuclear tests after a suspension of nearly three decades.

Last month, Billingslea accused Moscow of modernizing thousands of "nonstrategic" nuclear weapons that fall outside of the New START treaty.

"They have adopted a highly provocative nuclear doctrine that embraces early escalation and use of nuclear weapons," he said, calling for any successor treaty to put more Russian arms under monitoring.

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