US, Russia to discuss arms control in Geneva

The United States will send a high-level delegation to discuss arms control issues with the Russian side in Geneva later this week, US media reported on Monday. According to the New York Times, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will head US delegation, which also includes staff from the National Security Council, Pentagon, and other agencies. Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, will lead the Russian delegation.

The arms control regime between Washington and Moscow has been under erosion. The White House's decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty will take effect next month. Meanwhile, the United States has expressed disinterest in extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which will expire in 2021.

The collapse of the 1987 INF treaty, which banned ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, has sparked fears of a new arms race in Europe. New START restricts both the US and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads on a maximum of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles and strategic bombers.

Daryl Kimball, director of the US Arms Control Association, has advocated for a five-year extension of New START, saying there is no chance a new agreement adding China can be negotiated before the treaty expires in 2021.

“It would malpractice to discard New START in the hopes of negotiating a more comprehensive, ambitious nuclear arms control agreement with Russia and China and getting it ratified and into force,” according to Kimball, who accuses the Trump administration of dithering for more than a year before beginning talks.

Before the Group of 20 summit last month in Japan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he planned to push President Donald Trump for an extension to New START. Putin said his nation was ready to agree to an extension, but that Russia had not seen any initiative from the Americans even though the treaty expires in 2021.

At the same time, Russia also has expressed an interest in multilateral arms control deals, according to one of the administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the issue ahead of the talks Wednesday in Geneva. The senior administration officials said any comprehensive dialogue about the thorny issues of arms control has been made difficult by a series of actions by Moscow: interfering in the 2016 US presidential election, poisoning a former spy and his daughter in Britain, capping the size of the US Embassy in Russia, and seizing Ukrainian vessels.

The latest talks are being held just months after the Trump administration pulled the plug on a separate nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Washington accused Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Moscow denied it was in violation and has accused the United States of resisting its efforts to resolve the dispute.

Democrats in Congress and some arms control advocates criticized Trump’s decision as opening the door to an arms race, but Trump said the United States cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by the treaty.

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