US and Russia to resume nuclear talks, but China casts cloud


Washington (AFP)

Russia confirmed Tuesday that it would open talks with the United States this month on extending a major nuclear disarmament treaty but warned that US insistence on including China could scuttle efforts.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will meet in Vienna on June 22 with US envoy Marshall Billingslea to start negotiations on New START, which expires in February.

President Donald Trump has walked out of a number of international agreements but voiced a general interest in preserving New START, which obliged the United States and Russia to halve their inventories of strategic nuclear missile launchers.

But the Trump administration says that a successor to New START, negotiated under previous president Barack Obama, should bring in China -- whose nuclear arsenal is growing, although it remains significantly smaller than those of Russia and the United States.

"My answer to a direct question on whether or not we think it would be possible to bring China to the table would be a flat and straightforward no," Ryabkov told the Council on Foreign Relations by videoconference from Moscow.

"Now it depends on the US -- if the US believes it's worth continuing this dialogue with Russia or, for the US point of view, the Chinese participation is an absolute imperative that precludes (the) US from continuing a meaningful and forward-looking dialogue with Russia on arms control," he said.

Ryabkov indicated that Russia did not oppose a role for China -- an international ally of Moscow despite a complicated historical relationship -- but said that Beijing had to agree.

In turn, Ryabkov said that US allies Britain and France, also nuclear powers with much smaller arsenals, should join at the table.

"The logic is a very simple one -- the more we come down in numbers, the higher is the price for every single warhead payload and we cannot simply ignore capabilities of some others."

Trump last month pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed Russia, the United States and 32 other nations to conduct a number of surveillance flights over one another's territory at short notice.

He earlier pulled out of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key agreement from the Cold War.

Trump, who professes an "America First" approach to foreign affairs, has also rejected a multinational denuclearization agreement with Iran and pulled the United States out of the landmark Paris climate accord.