Trump Team Sees Window Opening for Russia Arms Control Talks
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, center, arrive for a news conference in Helsinki, Finland. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Trump Team Sees Window Opening for Russia Arms Control Talks

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is getting “strong signals” that Russia wants a more stable relationship with Washington, and the Trump administration wants to use that opening to press for a broad arms control agreement that would also include China, two senior American officials said.

The administration will test Moscow’s interest in such an agreement when Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan leads a delegation to Geneva on July 17 for meetings with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. The U.S. delegation will include the National Security Council’s new senior director for Russia, Tim Morrison. Morrison replaces the departing Fiona Hill.

At the one-day meeting in Geneva, the American delegation will test Russia’s seriousness about progress on what President Donald Trump has said is a top priority: a new “21st century model of arms control,” which would include China as well as Russia and the U.S. The U.S. is seeking to pin down such an agreement before the 2021 expiration of the New START treaty, which restricts the size of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

New START was signed in 2010 during the Obama administration. It isn’t related to the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The U.S. has suspended participation in that accord over charges that Russia is violating it.

The two officials, who asked not to be identified briefing reporters about private deliberations, said the Trump administration wants to anchor its dialogue with Russia around arms control.

They said Trump wants a broader agreement than New START given that an agreement solely between the U.S. and Russia would become irrelevant as China expands its nuclear arsenal. But China has shown no willingness so far to enter such talks, and won’t have any representatives at the Geneva meeting this week.

The officials said the U.S. assessment now is that Russia has cut back on some destabilizing activity. They cited an absence of attacks such as the March 2018 poisoning of a former spy with nerve agent in the U.K., and the detention of 24 Ukrainian sailors in the Sea of Azov in November.

The officials suggested that assessment may be one reason the Trump administration still hasn’t announced a long-awaited package of new sanctions intended to punish the Kremlin for the U.K. poisoning. Those sanctions were drafted earlier this year and had been expected to be announced in April.

One of the officials said the sanctions were measures the U.S. could have in its “back pocket,” adding that there was a constant discussion going on about how and when to deploy sanctions against Russia.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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