One of the Kremlin’s top diplomats confirmed Tuesday that U.S. and Russian diplomats will meet later this month on the future of the expiring New START arms control deal, but poured cold water on the Trump administration’s hopes of forcing China to join the bilateral pact.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a Council on Foreign Relations virtual briefing Tuesday that it was “good news” that he and U.S. counterpart Marshall Billingslea, President Trump’s special envoy to the arms talks, will meet in Vienna for talks on the 10-year New START pact, which expires if the two sides can’t reach a deal by February.
He later told Russia’s TASS news agency that the talks, aimed at salvaging one of the last remaining pillars of the U.S.-Russian arms control treaty structure, will help “make this process get off the ground and map out a certain way forward.”
But he also made clear there are significant differences in the U.S. and Russian hopes for the talks, and said the two sides should agree on a five-year extension of the current deal — which Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin could do on their own — rather than risk have the accord fall apart altogether.
Mr. Ryabkov also made clear Moscow is in no mood to join a U.S. plan to force China to participate in an expanded New START deal. Mr. Billingslea told The Washington Times in an interview last month that Russia must “help bring China to the table” to discuss limits on Beijing’s smaller but rapidly growing nuclear arsenal.
“China also invited” to the Vienna talks, Mr. Billingslea tweeted this week. “Will China show and negotiate in good faith?”
Chinese government officials have repeatedly said Beijing has no interest in joining three-way talks because their nuclear stockpile is far smaller than those of the U.S. and Russia.
And Mr. Ryabkov said his government is in no mood to pressure Beijing to change its mind.
“My answer to a direct question on whether or not we think it would be possible to bring China to the table would be a flat and straightforward no,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations by videoconference from Moscow.
The Russian minister argued Tuesday that “the easiest way forward to buy time would be to extend the existing treaty, as ratified in 2010, in both capitals and then use [the] five years of this treaty extension to … find probably a better way to address all sorts of issues, including those associated with new military technologies.”
He said the Kremlin had its own worries about recent U.S. moves; “We have many concerns about what is going on in the American build-up. This is American missile defenses becoming more and more global.”
New START, negotiated during the Obama administration, limits the number of deployable American and Russian nuclear weapons to 1,550. The accord also reduced by half the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers each side may have and set up a new inspection and verification regime to prevent cheating.
The weapons include at least 10 types of missiles, from long-range to short-range ballistic and cruise missiles. China also is close to deploying ultra-high-speed hypersonic missiles capable of striking U.S. targets with maneuvering warheads in less than 30 minutes.
Critics of China have argued that Beijing has been engaged in an extensive expansion of strategic nuclear forces that remains cloaked in secrecy by the ruling Communist Party and the military.
But Mr. Ryabkov said Tuesday that Russia does not “see any Chinese readiness” to participate in trilateral arms negotiations, putting the onus on the Trump administration to decide how it wants to proceed.
China has said it might be open to even broader arms talks that also include nuclear-armed U.S. allies such as Britain and France, and Mr. Ryabkov appeared to endorse the notion.
Moving forward, he said, it will be “of extraordinary importance” for the U.S. to bring some of its European allies to the negotiating table, “irrespective of how much their national nuclear capabilities matter compared to those of U.S. and Russia.”