US and Russia agree to hold talks on nuclear treaty for first time since Ukraine war began

WashingtonCNN — The US and Russia have agreed to hold talks on the single existing nuclear treaty between the two countries in the near future, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday.

The New START treaty limits all deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons by Russia and the US.

The treaty – the only one left regulating the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world – was extended by five years in February 2021 during the first weeks of Joe Biden’s presidency.

It requires both countries to allow on-site inspections of its nuclear weapons-related facilities by the other. Those inspections were paused in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A resumption of the inspections is expected to be a topic of discussion at the upcoming meetings, US officials said.

Diplomatic relations between Russia and the US are in the doldrums following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine with no end to the war in sight but US officials have viewed it as a positive development that Moscow has continued to express interest in the treaty, despite Putin’s alarming nuclear threats as the conflict rages on.

Russia has expressed a willingness to discuss extending the treaty and the US has said that negotiations would only happen once the on-site inspections resume.

Complications arose earlier this year after the US attempted to resume the inspections, but Russia rebuffed the efforts, citing alleged efforts by the US to “deprive the Russian Federation of the right to conduct inspections on American territory.” Price said at the time that the “US sanctions and restrictive measures imposed as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine are fully compatible” with the New START treaty.

The treaty’s meetings occur under the title of the bilateral consultative commission, the BCC.

“We have agreed that the BCC will meet in the near future under the terms of the New START treaty. The work of the BCC is confidential but we do hope for a constructive session,” Price said.

The last time a BCC was convened was more than a year ago in October 2021.

The treaty limits both nations to deploying 1,550 nuclear warheads on delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers.

Last week CNN reported Russian military officials have discussed how and under what conditions Russia would use a tactical nuclear weapon on the battlefield in Ukraine, according to a US intelligence assessment described to CNN by multiple sources who have read it.

The assessment, drafted by the National Intelligence Council, is not a high confidence product and is not raw intelligence but rather analysis, multiple people who have read it told CNN. For that reason, some officials believe the conversations reflected in the document may have been taken out of context, and do not necessarily indicate that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.

The US has still not seen any signs that Putin has decided to take the drastic step of using one, officials said, and Putin is not believed to have been involved in the discussions described in the intelligence assessment.