A senior Russian diplomat said on Friday that he was not optimistic about the extension of the US-Russia nuclear weapons agreement because of Washington’s requests to include China in the proposal.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the Trump administration that Russia would continue to protect its security defenses, with or without the new START treaty, noting that they were probably not willing to accept the new demands of Washington.
The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed in 2010 by former President Barack Obama and then President Dmitry Medvedev. The agreement, concluded in accordance with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, limited the number of nuclear warheads deployed to a maximum of 1,550 with 700 missiles and bombers.
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Last year, the United States and Russia withdrew from the 1987 nuclear weapons agreement, leaving the new START treaty as the last line of defense against nuclear proliferation among the world’s major nations in terms of nuclear development.
If the treaty expires, it would be the first time that the United States and Russia have not been united in a nuclear weapons treaty since the Cold War.
“We only need the extension as much as the Americans,” Lavrov said in a conference call with foreign policy experts on Friday. “If they categorically refuse, we will not try to persuade them.”
Russia has said it will extend the treaty, which expires in February 2021, without any additional provisions. But the Trump administration is now pushing for a new deal that would include China.
Russia’s security officials say the new deal is unrealistic and highlight China’s repeated refusals to negotiate an arms deal that requires a reduction in the number of nuclear weapons.
The United States and Russia account for more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, according to Defense News.
China has said it is committed to a no-first-use policy – a nuclear deterrence strategy which means that China will not strike first. However, China is working to increase its nuclear forces and has reportedly expanded its response capabilities, as Defense News reported.
Lavrov dismissed US calls for Russia to negotiate with China to reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal, calling it “non-diplomatic”. He said they would be happy to discuss nuclear weapons reductions with any country, whether Britain, France or China, but said it should be that country’s decision.
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“I am not particularly optimistic about the new START given the path followed by the American negotiators,” said Lavrov.
Lavrov said the administration’s new position on nuclear weapons makes an agreement more unlikely, adding “we are absolutely convinced that we can guarantee our long-term security, even without this treaty.” .
The new U.S. contingent comes amid growing tension between the U.S. and China – Lavrov notes the feud could hurt the global economy.
But when asked if Russia could help negotiate their relationship, Lavrov said, “If they ask us, if they show such interest, we will not refuse to do so.”
“We have established contacts with both parties,” said Lavrov. “We are always ready to try to help, but, of course, we will not offer our services to anyone.”
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Russia is currently debating the withdrawal of the Open Skies treaty, which allows observation flights over military installations, after Trump announced in May that the United States could withdraw from the 2002 agreement.
“We will make a final decision on whether to stay there after weighing all the consequences of the US withdrawal,” said Lavrov.
The European Union urged the United States to reconsider.
The State Department could not be reached to say whether or not the United States would allow the nuclear weapons treaty with Russia to expire if China refused to sign the new agreement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.