U. S. re­jects pro­posal by Putin to ex­tend nu­clear arms treaty

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Internatio­nal - By John Hud­son and Paul Sonne

WASH­ING­TON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­jected a pro­posal by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin for a one- year ex­ten­sion of a crit­i­cal nu­clear arms con­trol treaty Fri­day, dim­ming the chances of a diplo­matic break­through be­fore the Nov. 3 U. S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Mr. Putin of­fered to ex­tend New START, a 10- year treaty that places lim­its on the two coun­tries’ nu­clear war­heads, with­out pre­con­di­tions at a meet­ing of his se­cu­rity coun­cil, but U. S. na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Robert O’Brien called the pro­posal a “non- starter.”

“We hope that Rus­sia will re- eval­u­ate its po­si­tion be­fore a costly arms race en­sues,” Mr. O’Brien said in a state­ment.

The break­down in ne­go­ti­a­tions comes as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, trail­ing Demo­cratic ri­val Joe Bi­den in na­tional polling, urges his diplo­mats to bring him for­eign pol­icy vic­to­ries.

The 2010 treaty, which ex­pires in Fe­bru­ary, re­stricts the num­ber of de­ployed strate­gic nu­clear war­heads and cer­tain launch plat­forms.

If the treaty isn’t ex­tended or re­placed, the world’s two big­gest nu­clear pow­ers will re­turn to an era with­out sub­stan­tive re­straints on their ar­se­nals for the first time in decades.

As with other last- minute ef­forts to forge diplo­matic break­throughs be­fore the elec­tion, such as a rap­proche­ment be­tween Su­dan and Is­rael, U. S. diplo­mats ap­pear in need of more time to work out the de­tails.

On Fri­day, Mr. Putin said it would be “ex­ceed­ingly sad” if the treaty ex­pired. His for­eign min­is­ter, Sergei Lavrov, blamed U. S. in­tran­si­gence for de­mand­ing a large num­ber of pre­con­di­tions that go beyond the treaty.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t start ne­go­ti­a­tions in earnest un­til ear­lier this year, prompt­ing crit­i­cism from arms con­trol ad­vo­cates who said dis­cus­sions with the Rus­sians should have be­gun much sooner.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s arms con­trol en­voy, Mar­shall Billingsle­a, ini­tially in­sisted that China par­tic­i­pate in talks.

He wanted any re­place­ment treaty to in­clude China and to en­com­pass all of Rus­sia’s nu­clear weapons — not just the “strate­gic” weapons cov­ered un­der New START but also its siz­able stock­pile of smaller, “tac­ti­cal” nu­clear weapons that fall out­side the treaty. Mr. Billingsle­a also in­sisted that ver­i­fi­ca­tion mech­a­nisms for any fol­low- on treaty be strength­ened.

Rus­sia re­jected the de­mands, and China has re­fused to take part in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Mr. Trump then dis­patched Mr. O’Brien to meet with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part, Niko­lai Pa­tru­shev, early this month in Geneva.

“We’ve come to a log­jam in our meet­ings with the Rus­sians on New START, and so we felt — the pres­i­dent thought it would be help­ful if I went and spoke to my coun­ter­part to break the log­jam,” Mr. O’Brien said in an Oct. 5 in­ter­view with ra­dio host Hugh He­witt.

Af­ter that meet­ing and the calls be­tween Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion thought an agree­ment in prin­ci­ple had been reached, prompt­ing Mr. Billingsle­a to di­vert a trip in Asia to Helsinki to again meet with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion was hop­ing to agree to ex­tend New START for one or two years and in the mean­time place a freeze on both coun­tries’ full nu­clear ar­se­nals, Mr. Billingsle­a told re­porters. But that deal hasn’t ma­te­ri­al­ized.

Speak­ing Tues­day at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, Mr. Billingsle­a re­it­er­ated that he be­lieved the United States and Rus­sia had reached an “agree­ment in prin­ci­ple at the high­est lev­els of our two gov­ern­ments” and said he hoped the “gen­tle­man’s agree­ment” would “per­co­late down through their sys­tem so that my coun­ter­part hope­fully will be au­tho­rized to ne­go­ti­ate.”

“We’re ready to strike this deal. We could strike it to­mor­row, in fact,” Mr. Billingsle­a said. “But Moscow is go­ing to have to show the po­lit­i­cal will to do so as well.”

On Fri­day, Mr. Putin made no men­tion of a mu­tual freeze on the coun­tries’ nu­clear stock­piles, propos­ing in­stead a sim­ple one- year ex­ten­sion of the treaty with no con­di­tions while Moscow and Wash­ing­ton ne­go­ti­ate what comes next.

The White House re­jected the pro­posal out of hand, say­ing it wanted a more am­bi­tious agree­ment.

“The United States pro­posed an ex­ten­sion of New START for one year, in ex­change for Rus­sia and the United States cap­ping all nu­clear war­heads dur­ing that pe­riod,” Mr. O’Brien said.

“This would have been a win for both sides, and we be­lieved the Rus­sians were will­ing to ac­cept this pro­posal when I met with my coun­ter­part in Geneva.”

The treaty in­cludes a clause that al­lows the lead­ers of both na­tions to ex­tend the agree­ment by five years with­out re­quir­ing rat­i­fi­ca­tion. Both Mr. Putin and Mr. Bi­den have said they would agree to the five- year ex­ten­sion.

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