White House re­jects Putin’s pro­posal to ex­tend arms-con­trol pact

The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - ROBERT BURNS DEB RIECHMANN

The United States and Rus­sia on Fri­day re­jected each other’s pro­pos­als for po­ten­tially sal­vaging the last re­main­ing le­gal con­straint on their strate­gic nu­clear forces. Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin called for an un­con­di­tional ex­ten­sion of the soon-to-ex­pire New START treaty, and the White House called that a “non-starter.”

Adding an edgi­ness to the diplo­matic clash, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Robert O’Brien, sug­gested the Rus­sians re­think their stand “be­fore a costly arms race en­sues.” Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have pre­vi­ously al­luded to build­ing up nu­clear forces if the treaty is aban­doned, al­though the Pen­tagon has its hands full pay­ing for a one-for-one re­place­ment of older nu­clear weapons.

In the clos­ing days of his re­elec­tion bid, Mr. Trump has looked for ways to boost his for­eign pol­icy record, and al­though he says he favours nu­clear arms con­trol, he has called New START flawed and un­favourable to the U.S.

Last year he with­drew the U.S. from a sep­a­rate nu­clear arms treaty with Rus­sia, and he waited un­til this year to be­gin en­gag­ing the Rus­sians on the fu­ture of the New START deal.

Demo­crat Joe Bi­den, who was vice-pres­i­dent when New START was ne­go­ti­ated dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and rat­i­fied by the Se­nate, has said he would not hes­i­tate to agree to Putin’s orig­i­nal pro­posal for a five-year ex­ten­sion of New START. That would be fol­lowed by ne­go­ti­a­tion of a fol­low-on deal.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently pro­posed a one-year ex­ten­sion of the 2010 treaty, which is set to ex­pire in Fe­bru­ary, 2021, but it said this must be cou­pled with the im­po­si­tion of a broader cap on U.S. and Rus­sian nu­clear war­heads. The cap would cover war­heads not lim­ited by the New START treaty. Mr. Putin said Fri­day a one-year ex­ten­sion was okay, but should not be con­di­tioned on a wider cap on war­heads.

Mr. Trump’s lead arms-con­trol ne­go­tia­tor, Mar­shall Billingsle­a, blamed the Rus­sians for miss­ing what he called a his­toric op­por­tu­nity.

“The United States made ev­ery ef­fort,” he wrote on Twit­ter Fri­day, but the Rus­sians “back­tracked on an agree­ment” to cap the num­ber of nu­clear war­heads of all kinds. Rus­sian of­fi­cials have de­nied they made any such agree­ment.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s talk of a cap, or freeze, on all cat­e­gories of war­heads has puz­zled some U.S. an­a­lysts, in part be­cause the num­ber of those weapons has held steady over the past decade or so. Wil­liam Perry, who served as de­fence sec­re­tary un­der pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, said Thurs­day, prior to Mr. Putin’s lat­est re­marks, that the U.S. freeze idea may be a “do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal gam­bit” ahead of the Nov. 3 elec­tion.

“I see no real sig­nif­i­cance to it,” he said. “I can’t see any ra­tio­nale for it.”

The arms-con­trol ef­fort is ham­pered in part by de­te­ri­o­rat­ing trust be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow. Wash­ing­ton ac­cuses Moscow of cheat­ing and of as­pir­ing to a nu­clear buildup. The De­fence In­tel­li­gence Agency last year pro­jected that Rus­sia’s over­all stock­pile of nu­clear weapons would “grow sig­nif­i­cantly” over the next decade, driven by an in­crease in shorter-range, or non­strate­gic, weapons that are not gov­erned by the New START treaty.

For its part, Moscow is sus­pi­cious of U.S. mis­sile de­fences, which it be­lieves could un­der­mine the cred­i­bil­ity of its strate­gic mis­siles.

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