U.S. re­jects Putin’s pro­posal to ex­tend nu­clear arms treaty

The Washington Post - - ELECTION 2020 - BY JOHN HUD­SON AND PAUL SONNE john.hud­son@wash­post.com paul.sonne@wash­post.com

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.

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 na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Robert C. O’brien called the pro­posal a “non-starter.”

“We hope that Rus­sia will reeval­u­ate its po­si­tion be­fore a costly arms race en­sues,” O’brien said in a state­ment.

The break­down in ne­go­ti­a­tions comes as Pres­i­dent 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, 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. 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.

Trump then dis­patched 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,” O’brien said in an Oct. 5 in­ter­view with ra­dio host Hugh Hewitt.

Af­ter that meet­ing and the calls be­tween Trump and Putin, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion thought an agree­ment in prin­ci­ple had been reached, prompt­ing Bil­lignslea 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, Billingsle­a told re­porters. But that deal hasn’t ma­te­ri­al­ized.

Speak­ing Tues­day at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, 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.”

On Fri­day, 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,” 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 Putin and Bi­den have said they would agree to the fiveyear ex­ten­sion.

De­spite the ap­par­ent break­down in talks on Fri­day, Wash­ing­ton and Moscow could still re­vive the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­fore the elec­tion. But the Rus­sians have an in­cen­tive to wait and see the out­come of the vote, be­cause Bi­den so far has sig­naled his will­ing­ness to ex­tend the cur­rent treaty as it stands. If Bi­den wins, he would have about two weeks af­ter in­au­gu­ra­tion to ex­tend the pact.

Billingsle­a ini­tially warned that the Rus­sians would pay a price if they didn’t agree to a deal be­fore the elec­tion and Trump emerged vic­to­ri­ous, but he later ap­peared to back off that threat.

“We can have a deal to­mor­row, or we can have a deal when­ever. We’re am­biva­lent,” Billingsle­a said Tues­day. “The ball is in Rus­sia’s court, but I do think this will be in Rus­sia’s in­ter­est ul­ti­mately, so hope­fully they’ll take the deal.”

While it is un­clear how much sig­nif­i­cance Amer­i­can vot­ers place on U.S. for­eign pol­icy, Trump has sought to show­case his skills as a peace­maker in the fi­nal stretch of the elec­tion.

Last month, he tweeted that U.S. troops “should” come home from Afghanista­n by Christ­mas, a time­line his mil­i­tary lead­ers have ques­tioned. He also pre­viewed that “five or six” na­tions were poised to make nor­mal­iza­tion agree­ments with Is­rael fol­low­ing the U.s.-bro­kered deals with the United Arab Emi­rates and Bahrain, but those have yet to ma­te­ri­al­ize.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.