Russia will open nuclear disarmament talks with US

By AFP in Washington

Russia has confirmed that it will open talks with the US this month on extending a major nuclear disarmament treaty but warned that Washington’s insistence on including China could scuttle efforts.

The deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov will meet the US envoy Marshall Billingslea in Vienna on 22 June to begin negotiations on New Start, which expires in February.

Donald Trump has withdrawn from a number of international agreements but voiced a general interest in preserving New Start, which obliged the US and Russia to halve their inventories of strategic nuclear missile launchers.

But the Trump administration says that a successor to New Start, a treaty negotiated under Barack Obama, should bring in China, whose nuclear arsenal is growing but remains significantly smaller than those of Russia and the US.

“My answer to a direct question on whether or not we think it would be possible to bring China to the table would be a flat and straightforward no,” Ryabkov told the Council on Foreign Relations by videoconference from Moscow.

“Now it depends on the US – if the US believes it’s worth continuing this dialogue with Russia or, for the US point of view, the Chinese participation is an absolute imperative that precludes [the] US from continuing a meaningful and forward-looking dialogue with Russia on arms control,” he said.

Ryabkov indicated that Russia did not oppose the US invitation to China – an international ally of Moscow despite a complicated historical relationship – but said Beijing had to agree.

In turn, Ryabkov said that the US allies Britain and France, also nuclear powers with much smaller arsenals, should join the talks.

“The logic is a very simple one – the more we come down in numbers, the higher is the price for every single warhead payload and we cannot simply ignore capabilities of some others.”

Ryabkov described the US willingness to start negotiations as “good news” but said: “The ball is on the American part of the court.

“We need to hear loudly and clearly what this administration wants, how it believes it would be possible to do something positive and not just to dismantle one arms control treaty or arrangement after another.”

Trump last month pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed Russia, the United States and 32 other nations to conduct a number of surveillance flights over one another’s territory at short notice.

He earlier pulled out of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty, a key agreement from the cold war.

Billingslea, in a speech last month at the Hudson Institute, accused China of erecting a “great wall of secrecy” about its nuclear weapons and accused Beijing of flaunting its growing arsenal “to intimidate the United States and our friends and allies.

“This is irresponsible, dangerous behaviour. If China seeks to be a great power – and we know it has that self-image – it needs to behave like one,” he said.

The US and Russia each had more than 6,000 nuclear warheads in 2019, while China had 290, according to the Washington-based Arms Control Association.