Russia has welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden's proposal to extend the New START arms control treaty, but said it needs to see concrete proposals from the American side.
The White House said on January 21 that Biden intends to seek a five-year extension of the deal ahead of its expiration early next month, in one of the first major foreign policy decisions of the new U.S. administration.
Reacting to the statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on January 22 that it was important to see the details of the U.S. proposal. The Trump administration had sought to attach conditions to any renewal, something Moscow rejected.
“Russia stands for the preservation of the New START and for its extension," Peskov told journalists in Moscow, but added, "We can only welcome the political will to extend the document, but everything will depend on the details of this proposal, which is yet to be studied."
New START, the last remaining arms-control pact between Washington and Moscow, limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550 and deployed strategic delivery systems at 700.
Former President Donald Trump's administration made a late attempt to negotiate limits on other categories of nuclear weapons and add China to the treaty, stalling negotiations. A bid to agree to a shorter extension also ran into complications, leaving the fate of the treaty to the incoming Biden administration just two weeks before its February 5 expiration.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing on January 21 that Biden "has long been clear that the New START treaty is in the national security interests of the United States. And this extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time."
Russia had reiterated earlier this week -- and before Biden's proposal -- that it would welcome a five-year extension without conditions as permitted by the treaty.
Extending the treaty to allow time for Moscow and Washington another five years to negotiate a new verifiable arms-control arrangement will be welcomed by the United States’ European allies, which were already concerned after Trump withdrew from two other arms-control pacts.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on January 21 called on the United States and Russia to extend the treaty and to later broaden it.
“We should not end up in a situation with no limitation on nuclear warheads, and New START will expire within days,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
Stoltenberg underlined that “an extension of the New START is not the end, it’s the beginning of our efforts to further strengthen arms control.”
Daryl Kimball, the director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, wrote in an analysis that extending New START was a top foreign policy priority for the new president.
"A straightforward, no-nonsense five-year extension of New START would provide the new president with an early win and positive momentum, help restore U.S. credibility on arms control issues, and create the potential for more ambitious steps to reduce the nuclear danger and move us closer to a world without nuclear weapons,” Kimball wrote.
Despite the extension proposal, Psaki said the Biden administration was committed to holding Russia “to account for its reckless and adversarial actions.”
She said Biden had asked the U.S. intelligence community for an assessment of Russia’s suspected involvement in the massive Solar Winds hack of the U.S. government and major businesses.
Psaki said the United States would also further investigate Russia's suspected poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexsei Navalny, who was arrested over the weekend upon his return from life-saving medical treatment in Germany.
She also said the intelligence community would assess whether Russia was involved in any interference in the 2020 election.
Psaki said the United States would also investigate unverified reports Russian intelligence may have paid bounties to militants in Afghanistan to target U.S. troops.