Russia said Tuesday it would be open to a mutual nuclear warhead freeze with the United States in exchange for extending the last nuclear treaty between Moscow and Washington for a year.
The offer, made in a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry, injects new life into talks that days ago appeared dead after both sides rejected the other’s latest offer.
“Russia has proposed extending the New START for one year and is ready to assume a political obligation together with the United States to freeze the sides’ existing arsenals of nuclear warheads during this period,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement, adding the offer would only be possible if the United States does not make additional demands.
The yearlong extension of New START, Russia said, “could be used to hold comprehensive bilateral talks on the future of nuclear missile control, with the mandatory discussion of all factors that can influence strategic stability.”
Clinching a nuclear agreement, while not as extensive as what he first sought, would givePresident Trump a foreign policy win to tout in the closing days of the presidential election in which he trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden in national polls and key battleground states.
Still, a Trump administration official told the Wall Street Journal the two sides must still agree on verification measures for the warhead freeze and what the definition of a warhead is.
The State Department said Tuesday it “appreciate[s] the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control.”
“The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement,” department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same.”
New START caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads the United States and Russia can have at 1,550 a piece, as well as places limits on the weapons that can fire the warheads and creates a verification regime.
The treaty expires in February, though it includes an option to extend it up to five more years without needing new approval from the U.S. Senate.
The Trump administration wants to replace New START with a treaty that covers China’s weapons, as well as Russia’s so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons.
The Russian offer comes about a week after its negotiator in the arms control talks called the U.S. proposal to extend New START for a year in exchange for a warhead freeze “unacceptable,” denying the U.S. envoy’s claim that the two sides had reached a “gentleman’s agreement.”
“The U.S. position in favor of freezing has long been known to us, it is unacceptable to us,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last week. “Not because we are against freezing, but because we need to deal with the problems of strategic stability as a whole.”
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly offered to extend New START for at least one year without any other conditions, but the Trump administration quickly rejected the offer in a statement from national security adviser Robert O’Brien.
In Tuesday’s statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow has not received an official response to Putin’s offer, only comments on social media, so thought it was “necessary to clarify the matter.”
Updated at 9:56 a.m.