US, Russia to begin nuclear arms talks this month

US, Russia to begin nuclear arms talks this month
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U.S. and Russian officials will meet later this month for nuclear arms control negotiations, a top Trump administration arms control official said Monday. 

Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea tweeted that he and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov have agreed "on time and place for nuclear arms negotiations in June," referring to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which places limits on deployed nuclear warheads.

Billingslea added that China was also invited to the talks but said it's unknown if the country will participate.

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"Will China show and negotiate in good faith?" Billingslea asked.

Officials from Washington and Moscow are set to meet in Vienna on June 22, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

The administration and Russia have an option to agree to renew New START, which is set to expire in February, for a further five years. But the future of the deal has been put on shaky ground after Trump announced late last month that he is withdrawing from another pact between the two nations, the Open Skies Treaty. 

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Arms control advocates are now worried the administration may let New START expire if it does not get China to participate in wider nuclear talks. 

Also worrying advocates is Billingslea — the man tapped to negotiate an extension or replacement deal — who has made no guarantees that the administration won't pull out of this treaty as well. 

“We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” Billingslea said during a think tank event last month. “If we have to, we will, but we sure would like to avoid it.”

New START caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads the United States and Russia can have at 1,550 apiece, places limits on deploying weapons that can deliver the warheads and creates a verification regime that includes 18 on-site inspections per year.

The agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration, is set to expire Feb. 5.

The administration now wants Russia and China to agree to a broader arms control treaty, which would put in place stricter verification measures and cover several new Russian weapons systems.

China, because it has far fewer known warheads than Russia or the United States, has repeatedly rejected joining arms control talks. But Billingslea said he expects Moscow to bring Beijing to the conversation.

“Beijing, like Moscow, is intent on building up its nuclear forces and using those forces to try to intimidate the United States and our friends and our allies,” he said. “If China wants to be a great power — and we know it has that self-image — it needs to behave like one.”