The last U.S.-Russia strategic nuclear arms control pact appeared on track to win a one-year extension, as Washington on Tuesday welcomed a proposal by Moscow for such an extension if both sides freeze all nuclear warhead deployments for that period and the agreement is verifiable.
The apparent breakthrough, coming after months of difficult talks appeared to narrow the gap between the sides over the fate of the 2010 New START agreement, which is due to expire in February.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that Russia proposes to extend the New START treaty for one year and is ready together with the United States to make a commitment “to freeze the existing arsenals of nuclear warheads” held by both parties during this period.
However the Russian proposal can only be implemented if the United States “will not advance any additional conditions with regard to freezing the arsenals,” the statement said.
During the extension period both parties can “hold comprehensive bilateral talks on the future of nuclear missile control, with the mandatory discussion of all factors that can influence strategic stability,” the statement said.
The demise of the treaty would lift all remaining restraints on deployments of strategic nuclear warheads and the missiles and bombers that carry them, making possible an arms race between the world’s largest nuclear weapons powers.
But a statement published by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday suggested that the two countries’ positions had moved closer.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus welcomed the Russian offer and said in a statement that the United States appreciated “willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control.”
“The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same,” Ortagus said.
Her statement highlighted a question the sides would have to resolve to pave the way to a one-year New START extension: how they would verify that the other was adhering to the warhead deployment freeze.
The treaty can be extended for up to five years beyond its Feb. 5 expiration with the agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday at a Russian security conference that the country’s Foreign Ministry submitted a proposal to the United States presenting their “comprehensive approach to strategic stability.”
The U.S. proposal sent in response contained “preconditions for the extension of the New START,” that “have been formulated both outside the Treaty itself and outside our frame of reference,” Lavrov said at the conference attended also by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin proposed at that conference to “extend the Treaty now in effect unconditionally for at least a year in order to have a chance to hold substantive talks on all the parameters of problems that are regulated by treaties of this kind.”
“It is clear that we have new weapons systems that the American side lacks, at least for the time being. But we are not refusing to discuss this aspect of the matter as well,” Putin said.
Putin endorsed in June changes to Russia’s nuclear deterrent policy, which allows the country to use atomic weapons, not only in response to a nuclear attack but also to respond to conventional strikes targeting the nation’s critical government and military infrastructure.
Challenges Ahead of US-Russia Negotiations
The New START treaty constrains more than 90 percent of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, less than half of Russia’s, and none of China’s, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea said on Oct. 14 at an event held by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Russia and the United States together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s total nuclear warheads in 2020, <a href="https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/sta<a href=https://www.theepochtimes.com/russia-us-appear-closer-on-deal-to-extend-nuclear-pact_3546072.html>Read More – Source</a></p>_
Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh receive Covid-19 vaccine
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh have received their Covid-19 vaccinations, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Saturday.
Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger
Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.
The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.
“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”
It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.
Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.
The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.
Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.
On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.
Niger votes in presidential and legislative elections
People in Niger began voting in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Mohamed Bazoum, the right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou is the favourite to win.
The sixty-year-old former interior minister is aiming for outright victory in the first round — something that no candidate has done before.
He’s focussing on security and education.
Over 7 million people are eligible to vote. But some voters, like Gambina Moumouni, simply want a president they can trust.
“We pray to Allah to choose us the president who has the most mercy for the people, a president who will not betray the country and who will not betray the trust of the people, that is our wish. It is also our wish that Allah may help to make the poor, the peasants, the (cattle) breeders happy.
Thirty candidates are standing including two former presidents and two former prime ministers, but according to seasoned observers in the region, the poll is arousing little enthusiasm among the population.
Niger is the world’s poorest according to the UN’s Human Development Index and also one of those hardest hit by climate change.
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