Pompeo Sees Arms Control Deal With Russia by the End of the Year

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Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the U.S. has made progress toward a new nuclear arms control agreement with Russia after talks earlier in August in Vienna, and raised the prospect that the two sides could sign a deal by the end of the year.

“We made real progress in the last couple weeks,” Pompeo said in an interview with Washington radio station WMAL, referring to talks between U.S. envoy Marshall Billingslea and Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. “I hope we could get that done before the end of the year -- would be a good thing for the world, take down risk from nuclear weapons.”

Pompeo’s remarks reflect a new sense of momentum toward a deal that would provide for an extension of the New START treaty after the Trump administration dropped its demand that China take part in any negotiations, asserting that extending the U.S.-Russia treaty would be impossible otherwise.

Both Russia and China, which is rapidly expanding its nuclear stockpile, had strongly resisted the idea of three-way talks. Russia has sought a straight five-year extension of New START, which limits the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and is set to expire in February.

Now, the U.S. is willing to consider an extension of New Start but only as part of a broader arms-control framework with Russia that would put caps on all stockpiles of nuclear warheads, not only those on long-range weapons, and also provide for more robust verification measures, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations.

The goal would be to create an arms-control framework that China would then be pressured to join, the person said. The person described the change in position toward China as a tactical move and said the U.S. strategy to press China to account for and cut its stockpiles remains unchanged.

President Donald Trump is under political pressure to demonstrate foreign-policy wins in his race for re-election against Joe Biden, whom he trails in the polls. An extension of New START and progress toward a broader nuclear agreement would allow him to counter arguments from Democrats that he’s walked away from deals -- such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear agreement -- without crafting any new ones.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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