Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia
President Biden’s administration will seek a full five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.
“I can confirm that the United States intends to seek a five-year extension of New START as the treaty permits,” Psaki told reporters at a briefing.
New START, which is due to expire in February, limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads the U.S. and Russia can each have at 1,550 and also puts limits on weapons that can fire warheads.
The Trump administration had sought to replace New START with a new nuclear arms treaty that also included China, putting the treaty’s fate in limbo under the previous administration.
Psaki said that the extension of the treaty, which represents the only remaining major arms pact between the U.S. and Russia, was necessary given Moscow’s increasingly adversarial behavior.
“The president has long been clear that the New START treaty is in the national security interest of the United States and this extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time,” Psaki said.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that extending the treaty for five years “allows time and space for our two nations to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks to Americans.”
“Just as we engage Russia in ways that advance American interests, we in the Department will remain clear-eyed about the challenges Russia poses and committed to defending the nation against their reckless and adversarial actions,” Kirby said.
The Washington Post was the first to report Biden’s plans to seek an extension of the treaty.
Psaki said that Biden would also seek an assessment from the U.S. intelligence community on the SolarWinds hack, which officials blamed on Moscow, as well as Russian interference in the 2020 election, Russian involvement in the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and alleged Russian bounties on U.S. service members in Afghanistan.
The moves indicate that Biden will look to stake out a tough stance on Russia while also seeking cooperation on issues like arms control. Biden has not yet spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin since being elected president, as he has other world leaders.
Psaki indicated she had no information on whether U.S. officials had alerted their Russian counterparts of their desire to seek a five-year extension. Russia would need to agree to the extension. The treaty allows for an extension of up to five years.
The treaty is due to expire Feb. 5. Arms control experts had urged Biden to extend it.
Tony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of State, said during his confirmation hearing earlier this week Biden would extend the treaty but left the length of the extension in question.
“He’ll have to make a decision as president about what duration he would seek,” Blinken told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
— Updated 6:05 p.m.