Russia has “unilaterally postponed” nuclear arms control negotiations with the United States that were due to take place in Cairo this week, a State Department spokesman said Monday.
Talks were due to start Tuesday in the Egyptian capital with a focus on resuming annual inspections as required by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last major arms control treaty between the two nuclear powers.
The United States and Russia mutually agreed to suspend inspections in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. In response to Washington’s support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in February, Moscow suspended inspections in August.
A State Department spokesman said Russia had postponed the latest series of meetings and “stated that it would propose new dates.”
“The United States stands ready to reschedule as soon as possible, as resuming inspections is a priority to uphold the treaty as an instrument of stability,” the spokesperson said.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Relations between Moscow and the White House are at their lowest point in decades after Russia invaded Ukraine, a US ally. In response, Washington sent billions of dollars in aid and military equipment to Ukraine, as the smaller country has maintained its defense and recently gained ground through a series of successful counteroffensives.
This would have been the first meeting of the treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission, which discusses issues related to the treaty’s implementation, since October 2021, months before Russia’s invasion. The summit was seen as a possible place for Russia and the US to show their determination to keep the lines of communication open and pursue arms control deals despite the war in Ukraine.
Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, has said that the intention was to keep the focus of the talks on the New START Treaty and prevent it from drifting into something related to Ukraine. Concerns that Russia would use a nuclear weapon while fighting on the battlefield grew before fading recently.
The New START Treaty “has to do with the disposition of our respective nuclear assets,” Price said at a press conference on November 8, Election Day.
The meeting and the treaty represent “our commitment to risk reduction, to strategic stability, something we remain committed to, something that is deeply in our bilateral interest, and we hope the next meeting will be constructive,” he said.
Price added that the United States had “made it clear to Russia” that the two countries’ disagreement over “Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine” did not prevent Russian inspectors “from conducting New START Treaty inspections in the United States.”
Rose Gottemoeller, a former NATO assistant secretary general, said she was not ultimately concerned about the latest delay. At this point, she said, it seemed necessary “for technical reasons.”
“Often, both our government and yours take longer to finish their job,” he said. “If it turns out to be postponed and it becomes a long delay, then we’ll have something to worry about.”
Both parties, Gottemoeller said, are also working on new inspection methods after the spread of the coronavirus. That has prevented inspections from restarting since the original suspension.
“It has taken a while to come up with the Covid protocols,” he said. “How much distance do inspectors have to keep from each other? What kind of masks do they have to wear? All those little details have to be worked out and agreed.”