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President Trump's new arms-control negotiator is planning to meet with his Russian counterpart soon to discuss a new U.S. proposal for a far-reaching accord to limit all Russian, Chinese and U.S. nuclear warheads, U.S. officials disclosed Thursday.
The talks will mark the first time the Trump administration has opened negotiations on an agreement to replace the New START accord, which covers Russian and U.S. long-range nuclear arms and is due to expire in February.
The disclosure of the new talks came as the Trump administration moved to withdraw from an old agreement: the separate Open Skies treaty, a nearly three-decade-old accord intended to reduce the risk of war between Russia and the West.
Marshall Billingslea, who took up his post last month as Mr. Trump's senior envoy on arms control, will launch the new talks with Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister. They have been working to finalize the agenda for the meeting, which is likely to take place in Vienna.
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"We have agreed that as soon as possible, taking into account the Covid virus, we will get together to begin negotiations," a senior Trump administration official said.
The new U.S. proposal is far more ambitious than the 2010 New START accord, not least because it seeks to convince China to join the negotiations. U.S. officials said the wide-ranging deal is necessary because of the projected growth in the Chinese and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Critics warn the Trump administration strategy amounts to an overreach — and could lead to a deadlock that will undermine the existing arms-control framework, which has already begun to fray.
Concern over the prospects for arms control was expressed by European officials after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will give six months' notice to treaty participants that it is leaving the 1992 Open Skies accord, which allows the West and Russia to carry out reconnaissance flights over each other's territories to build confidence that an attack isn't being planned.
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The U.S. has accused Russia of denying Western planes full access in flights over its territory. Defending his decision, Mr. Trump said he would seek to maintain good relations with Russia by pursuing other arms control agreements or perhaps rejoin the Open Skies accord if Moscow addressed U.S. concerns.
"There's a very good chance that we'll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together," Mr. Trump said. "We're going to pull out and they are going to come back and want to make a deal."
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko of Russia said the U.S. had relied on "contrived pretexts" in taking its decision and that it was, part of a pattern of "destructive steps in the sphere of strategic stability and security," state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
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China, which has with a much smaller nuclear arsenal than the U.S. and Russia, has repeatedly said it won't be party to a three-way nuclear accord. Beijing has no history of allowing intrusive arms-control verification on its territory.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in January that Beijing had "no intention to participate" in three-way arms talks. He charged that Washington was demanding that China join such negotiations as "a pretext to shirk and shift its own nuclear disarmament responsibilities." A spokesman for the Chinese embassy didn't respond to a request for comment.