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Trump dismisses Putin's New START offer

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to extend the New START treaty as is, but U.S. President Donald Trump's administration called it a "non-starter."

Russian President Vladmir Putin offered to extend the last remaining major U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty without making any changes on Friday, but U.S. President Donald Trump's administration called it a "non-starter" because it does not apply to China or all of Russia's arms.

At a virtual meeting of Putin's Security Council in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said their government has been "quite proactive" in trying to keep the treaty alive. Lavrov said Russian diplomats have been "emphasizing our initiative to take a decision without delay to extend the New START, set to expire in February 2021, for a new five-year term without any preconditions" in talks with the Americans.

"This initiative remains on the table," said Lavrov, according to a Kremlin transcipt. "In reply, the United States has sent us its proposals, which have been presented as conditions, or rather preconditions for the extension of the New START."

Putin then instructed Lavrov to offer to extend the treaty for one year without conditions. "It would be extremely sad if this treaty ceased to exist and was not replaced by another fundamental document of this kind," Putin told his council's meeting.

"During all the previous years, the New START worked and worked properly, performing its fundamental role as a constraint curtailing the arms race and a tool of arms control," he added. "It is clear that we have new weapons systems that the American side lacks, at least for the time being. But we are not refusing to discuss this aspect of the matter as well."

In recent days, Trump seemed to be pushing for a foreign policy win before Election Day. His special envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, publicly declared just last week that “important progress” had been made towards renewing this key part of the Cold War-era’s nuclear arms control regime. Prior to those efforts, Trump let more than a year pass without holding nuclear disarmament talks with Russia.

'A relatively straightforward proposal'

New START is set to expire on February 5, 2021, just 16 days after the next U.S. president takes office on January 20. It is not clear what Trump might do if he is reelected. If his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, wins the November 3 election, he said he would immediately seek to renew New START before it lapses.

But on Friday, Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, told an Aspen Institute forum that the Trump administration wanted Russia to freeze its entire stockpile — including some nuclear weapons that are not included in the treaty — for one year.

"We made a proposal. It was a relatively straightforward proposal that we extend New START for a year and the Russians would cap nuclear warheads for a year," he said. "I thought we had favorable movement on that front."

Later, he tweeted the administration's refusal to accept Putin's offer. "The United States proposed an extension of New START for one year, in exchange for Russia and the United States capping all nuclear warheads during that period," O'Brien said.

"This would have been a win for both sides, and we believed the Russians were willing to accept this proposal when I met with my counterpart in Geneva," he said, referring to his talks on October 2 with Russian Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev. "President Putin’s response today to extend New START without freezing nuclear warheads is a non-starter."

The United States and Russia only resumed nuclear disarmament talks at Vienna in late June. For a year, Trump ignored Putin’s offer to hold talks, saying he wanted China included in negotiations to extend New START, which took effect in 2011 and replaced the START treaty that operated from 2004 to 2009.

Trump also allowed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty, to lapse between the United States and Russia last year. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had signed into law the INF Treaty, which banned the use of all U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles that could strike targets between 500 and 5,500 kilometers away.

The INF Treaty, effective from June 1, 1988 until August 2, 2019, was important to European security, helping to bring about the destruction of almost 2,700 missiles and their launchers.