US President Joe Biden proposes five-year extension of nuclear treaty with Russia

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President Joe Biden has called for a five-year extension of the New START treaty with Russia, which limits the number of US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons, senior US officials said Thursday.

“President Biden’s decision to seek a five-year extension of New START advances the nation's defense,” Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said.

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Kirby added: “Extending the treaty’s limitations on stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons until 2026 allows time and space for our two nations to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks to Americans.”

The treaty is set to expire February 5 and is the last remaining agreement constraining US and Russian nuclear weapons. Signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads.

Obama won Senate ratification of the treaty with a commitment to move ahead with a vast and enormously expensive recapitalization of the US nuclear force. That program, which some Democrats in Congress call excessive, is likely to be further scrutinized by the Biden administration. At a projected cost exceeding $1 trillion over the next several decades, the plan is to replace each of the three “legs” of the US nuclear triad — ballistic missile submarines, nuclear-capable bomber aircraft and land-based nuclear missiles.

President Donald Trump had been highly critical of New START, asserting that it put the United States at a disadvantage. His administration waited until last year to engage Russia in substantive talks on the treaty’s future.

Trump insisted that China be added to the treaty, but Beijing rejected the idea out of hand.

Trump’s lead negotiator on New START discussions with the Russians, Marshall S. Billingslea, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Biden would be making a mistake by quickly agreeing to a five-year extension.

“Hope this is not true,” he wrote, referring to news reports of Thursday’s proposal. “If so, shows stunning lack of negotiating skill. Took just 24 hours for Biden team to squander most significant leverage we have over Russia.”

Some US officials have been leery of renewing New START without getting a Russian commitment to negotiate limits on new types of strategic weapons, including Moscow's nuclear-capable Avangard hypersonic long-range missile.

But Kirby noted that the US would “remain clear-eyed about the challenges Russia poses and committed to defending the nation against their reckless and adversarial actions.”

Biden, who indicated during the campaign that he favored extending New START, is not proposing any alterations, a US official told The Associated Press on Thursday. Thus it appeared likely that Moscow would be amenable to an extension.

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- With AP