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By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia sees minimal chances of extending the New START treaty with the United States - their last major nuclear arms pact - as it does not accept conditions set out by Washington, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying on Monday.
He spoke came after Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control, told a Russian newspaper that Moscow must accept a joint agreement with Washington on extending the treaty before the U.S. presidential election in November.
"I suspect that after President Trump wins re-election, if Russia has not taken up our offer, that the price of admission, as we would say in the U.S., goes up," Billingslea told Kommersant newspaper in an interview.
Ryabkov said that position constituted an ultimatum and lowered the chances of reaching any kind of agreement to extend the deal, which expires in February next year.
"We cannot talk in this manner," TASS news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying. Another news agency, RIA, quoted him as saying the chances of a treaty extension were "minimal".
The New START accord, signed in 2010, limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that Russia and the United States can deploy.
Failure to extend it would remove the main pillar maintaining the balance of nuclear arms between the two countries, adding yet another element of tension to their already fraught relationship.
DISAGREEMENT ON CHINA
Billingslea said the U.S. side was looking for a framework political accord on extending New START. This framework, which would not have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, would stipulate that a successor to New START must be multilateral and include China, he told Kommersant.
Ryabkov called that a "deliberate distortion of our position." He said China's decision on whether to take part in the talks was exclusively Beijing's to make.
"We have not taken and do not intend to take any steps to bring China into these talks, something we have told our American colleagues on multiple occasions," TASS quoted Ryabkov as saying.
New START is a successor to the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) signed in 1991 between the then-Soviet Union and the United States.
Arms deals between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, and their successors George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, underscored growing trust between the superpowers at that time and proved a contributor towards ending the Cold War.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Trevelyan/Mark Heinrich)