- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Trump administration’s top arms control negotiator said Tuesday that “important progress” is being made in down-to-the-wire talks with Russia on a new nuclear arms control deal.

With the 10-year-old New START agreement set to expire in February, representatives from the U.S. and Russia met in Finland on Monday to continue talks that took place in Vienna over the summer. The mood was more upbeat this time.

“Important progress,” top U.S. arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea tweeted as he thanked his Finnish hosts.

New START, also known as the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, limits the number of deployable U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons at 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 violations.

The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed extending the treaty between the U.S. and Russia for another five years. The move would not need congressional action.

Last year, Mr. Putin said he is open to striking an agreement to extend the treaty “without any preconditions.”

But President Trump and Mr. Billingslea have pressed for a more ambitious deal, which would include more classes of weapons and would include China in the arms control talks for the first time. U.S. officials argue that Beijing’s small but rapidly growing arsenal must be included in any comprehensive deal.

Mr. Billingslea has also bluntly warned Moscow that it is likely to face much tougher terms if it waits until after the U.S. presidential election next month to strike a deal.

But China has repeatedly rejected overtures to join the talks and the Russians have said they prefer to preserve the current treaty and deal with the China issue down the road.

Mr. Billingslea was not specific about the progress, and Russian negotiators gave a far less rosy assessment of the latest round of talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday said the conditions put forth by U.S. negotiators are “absolutely unilateral and don’t take into account our interests, or the experience of many decades when arms control has existed to mutual satisfaction.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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