US extends nuclear arms treaty with Russia

Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. By Jennifer Hansler and Nicole Gaouette, CNN

(CNN) -- The United States has extended a key nuclear arms control treaty with Russia for five years, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday.

"Extending the New START Treaty makes the United States, U.S. allies and partners, and the world safer. An unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all," Blinken said.

The treaty -- the only one left regulating the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world -- was set to expire on February 5. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law extending the treaty for five years on Friday.

President Joe Biden made renewing the pact a priority when he entered office, even as he launched a review of Russian malfeasance ranging from the SolarWinds hack to the alleged bounties Moscow offered for the death of US troops in Afghanistan.

In a statement, Blinken said the extension of the New START Treaty allows for verifiable limits on Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers until February 5, 2026 and the treaty's "verification regime enables us to monitor Russian compliance with the treaty and provides us with greater insight into Russia's nuclear posture, including through data exchanges and onsite inspections that allow U.S. inspectors to have eyes on Russian nuclear forces and facilities."

"We will also pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China's modern and growing nuclear arsenal," Blinken added. "The United States is committed to effective arms control that enhances stability, transparency and predictability while reducing the risks of costly, dangerous arms races."

The top US diplomat noted that "just as we engage the Russian Federation in ways that advance American interests, like seeking a five-year extension of New START and broader discussions to reduce the likelihood of crisis and conflict, we remain clear eyed about the challenges that Russia poses to the United States and the world."

"Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, so too will we work to hold Russia to account for adversarial actions as well as its human rights abuses, in close coordination with our allies and partners," he said.

The US and allies were united in condemning Russia's sentencing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny to two and a half years in jail, a step that will be part of Biden's review of Russia policy, according to White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. And European countries, which get access to information the US gleans from New START exchanges with Russia, had pushed for extension of the nuclear treaty.

Coordination and confrontation

The New START Treaty limits both nations to deploying 1,550 nuclear warheads over 700 delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers. It also allows for 18 on-site inspections every year that allow each side to keep a close eye on the others' capabilities.

The nuclear treaty is one of a series of issues that the Biden administration will have to confront or potentially coordinate with Russia on, including efforts to sanction North Korea and ensure stability in Afghanistan -- questions that the President to consult with allies on first. Also on the roster for discussion with allies: the question of managing sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

Biden also has to factor in suspicions that Moscow is behind a series of mysterious sonic attacks on US diplomats overseas, reports that Russia secretly offered bounties to Afghan militias to kill US soldiers and Moscow's interference in the 2020 election campaign.

Perhaps most worryingly, Biden also has to contend with the suspicion that Russia may be behind one of the largest and sophisticated cyberattacks in years, one that reached into major US businesses and agencies across the administration, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture and Commerce. US officials have also acknowledged that the hack spanned core national security agencies, including the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and the State Department.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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