Moscow 'ready for dialogue' as Biden admin looks to renew Cold War-era nuclear treaty

Abigail Williams and Matthew Bodner and Tatyana Chistikova and Yasmine Salam
·3 min read

Russian officials on Friday welcomed news that President Joe Biden’s administration was set to approach their country in the hope of renewing dialogue over the last remaining U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty.

NBC News on Thursday obtained an internal State Department memo that said the U.S. will propose that the landmark New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, which expires on Feb. 5, be extended for five years.

"Russia without doubt supports preservation and extension of the START treaty in order to get a certain time lag to carry out all the necessary negotiations and contacts," Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said during a daily call with reporters.

Peskov added that while he welcomes "political will to extend the document," he still has not received the U.S. proposal.

Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, echoed Peskov's sentiments telling Russian reporters, "the ball is in the American court."

Securing a renewal of the treaty is one of the most pressing national security challenges facing the incoming Biden team.

The U.S. memo instructed U.S. diplomats to inform allies of the proposal "at the highest appropriate level."

While the memo entitled "Demarche request: New START extension" said Washington’s relationship with Moscow was “likely to remain challenging,” it added that New START “is manifestly in the national security interests of the United States and our allies,” because it “provides limits on Russia’s nuclear program, gives us information about Russia’s nuclear arsenal, and provides us with access to Russian nuclear facilities.”

The cable adds that the U.S. remains "clear eyed about the challenges Russia poses,” and that the Biden administration “will work in close consultation with our Allies and partners to hold Russia to account for its reckless and aggressive actions.”

The proposal was first reported by The Washington Post.

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The State Department did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Signed in 2010 by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, the New START treaty limited each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers.

It is the only nuclear arms control deal between the two countries still standing after Moscow and Washington withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty last year.

Russia had offered the Trump administration a five-year extension of the New START treaty without preconditions and signaled this week that the deal was still possible.

The Trump administration rejected Russia’s offer and pushed for a shorter arms control agreement that included a freeze on all nuclear warheads and the future inclusion of China. But the negotiations ended in stalemate.

“Hope this is not true. If so, shows stunning lack of negotiating skill,” Marshall Billingslea, the chief U.S. negotiator under Trump, tweeted after reports of the proposal became public. “Took just 24 hours for Biden team to squander most significant leverage we have over Russia.”

After Biden was sworn in on Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a release that it hoped the new administration would “take a more constructive stand in its dialogue with Russia” about New START.

“For our part, we are ready for such work on the basis of equality and respect for each other’s interests,” it said.