Biden administration to approach Russia about nuclear treaty extension

President Joe Biden’s administration will approach Russia Thursday in the hope of renewing dialogue over the last remaining nuclear treaty between the two countries, according to an internal State Department memo obtained by NBC News.

Entitled “Demarche request: New START extension,” the memo says the U.S. will propose that the landmark New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, which expires on Feb. 5, is extended for five years

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

“To enable the United States and Russia to complete all of the steps necessary to formalize an extension to the treaty by that deadline,” the memo says the “Biden administration will conduct initial outreach to the Russian government on January 21 to propose a five-year extension of the treaty.”

The proposal was first reported by the Washington Post.

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

While it says Washington’s relationship with Moscow is “likely to remain challenging,” the memo states 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 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 State Department did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Signed in 2010 by former U.S. President Barack Obama and ex-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev 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 previously offered the Trump Administration a five-year extension of the New START treaty without preconditions and signaled earlier this week the deal was still possible.

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The Trump administration had 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 ultimately ended in stalemate.

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

After Biden was sworn in as president on Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a press release that it hoped the new U.S. 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.

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