The Russian Federation on Tuesday appeared to offer a one-year extension of the New START nuclear arms-limitation treaty with the U.S., as long as a politically binding, bilateral warhead freeze is the only condition of such an extension, according to a statement posted online by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ministry posted a Russian-language statement in the pre-dawn hours, Washington time, and quickly posted an official translation.
“Russia has proposed extending the New START for one year and is ready to assume a political obligation together with the United States to freeze the sides’ existing arsenals of nuclear warheads during this period,” according to the English language statement. “Our proposal can only and exclusively be implemented on the understanding that the United States will not advance any additional conditions with regard to freezing the arsenals.”
That appeared to be a bit of a walk back from what Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said Friday in a Russian-language statement: that Russia was willing to extend New START for one year, but without any conditions.
It also showed that the death of a “gentlemen’s agreement” on a short-term treaty extension — U.S. media broke the news about the impending deal earlier this month, citing high-level Trump administration sources — may have been somewhat exaggerated.
“We appreciate the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control,” the U.S. State Department wrote in a statement Monday morning. “The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same.”
In addition to a warhead freeze, the White House wanted to condition a one-year New START extension on “meaningful verification” measures to ensure that the “serial treaty violators” in Moscow would comply with a warhead freeze, Marshall Billingslea, Trump’s special presidential envoy for arms control, said last week.
New START, negotiated during the Obama administration, limits the U.S. and Russia to some 1,550 city-busting, long-range strategic warheads each. It does not limit the number of relatively smaller, shorter-range nuclear weapons the sides may develop and deploy. The Trump administration wants a new, broader treaty that also includes China, and which limits every kind of nuclear weapon in all three countries’ arsenals.
Over the summer, after China refused again and again to negotiate and Russia refused to condition a New START extension on Moscow’s willingness to court Beijing for a follow-on treaty, negotiations turned toward a short-term extension of the existing treaty.