US, Russia discuss arms control in Vienna as key pact's expiry looms

Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (on the picture) meets with US special envoy Marshall Billingslea in Vienna

Senior diplomats from the United States and Russia, the world's two biggest nuclear powers, held arms control talks at a meeting in Vienna on Monday, eight months before a key nuclear weapons pact is to expire. The New START agreement, in force for a decade but due to end in February, is the last remaining nuclear arms control deal between the two countries.

The US and Russia are estimated to possess about 90% of the world's nuclear weapons. Thus, New START's looming expiration has evoked concerns about a renewed arms race. The Vienna talks were expected to conclude on Tuesday.

The US has said that its bilateral arms control agreements with Russia are outdated and that it wants China to be included in any future agreements on nuclear weapons, even as Beijing has repeatedly said it is not interested in joining.

US arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea said that China was a "no-show" at the Vienna talks, posting a photo on Twitter of Chinese flags at empty chairs at the negotiating table.

"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," Billingslea said in a statement.

A Russian security expert, Dmitry Suslov, told state media ahead of Monday's meeting that the US appears unlikely to prolong the New START agreement without bringing China to the table.

New START limits the number of nuclear missile launchers to 800 and operational nuclear warheads to 1,550.

"I presume Russia's position towards prolonging the New START is ambivalent," Russian military expert Pavel Luzin told dpa.

"Russia's strategic arms are far fewer than the treaty's ceiling," Luzin said, adding that Soviet-era nuclear weapons are being dismantled faster than Russia's defence industry could produce new ones.

"Moscow is not able to play in a real strategic arms race with the United States," Luzin said.

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