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U.S. Arms Control Envoy: No New Arms Control Initiative Without Chinese Participation

May 16, 2020 (EIRNS)—On May 7, Marshall Billingslea, the White House special envoy for arms control talks with Russia and President Trump’s nominee to be the next Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, in an interview with Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, elaborated what he alleged is President Donald Trump’s view of a future arms control arrangement that China must be part of. However, Billingslea demonstrated a thuggish approach toward both Russia and China that will likely guarantee that there will be no extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) beyond February of 2021 unless the President directs that there will be one.

Billingslea, reported Gertz, declared that it is Russia that must “bring the Chinese to the negotiating table, that the New START “does nothing” with respect to U.S. concerns about China or with respect to what Russia has supposedly been doing outside of the treaty. Nor does it address China’s new nuclear systems which he claimed are as much a threat to Russia as to the U.S.

During the interview, Billinsglea made several assertions that are simply untrue, such as calling Russia’s Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile an intercontinental ballistic missile when it is not, and asserting that Russia is in violation of New START when the U.S. State Department’s arms control compliance report, issued on April 15, admits that it is not.

He also claimed that the verification mechanism in the New START is weak, when practically every arms control expert has concluded the opposite. The twice-yearly exchange of information and the inspections of each side’s strategic systems by the other under the treaty would also suggest, as experts have pointed out, that each side has a high degree of confidence that the other is in compliance with the treaty.

Billingslea’s characterization of the treaty and the way forward suggests, however, that he has no trust in either Russia or China, and that therefore, they must prove trustworthy by “more transparency regarding their plans and intentions, and what their actual capabilities are to reassure the United States,” as he put it. As for Russia, Billingslea said that he wants to know why Moscow is “desperate” for an extension of the New START. “We want to understand why the Russians are so desperate for extension, and we want the Russians to explain to us why this is in our interest to do it,” he said.

“Trump’s new arms control hawk gives death sentence to New START treaty by making extension dependent on China,” arms control expert Hans Kristensen commented in a series of Twitter postings on May 8. “He’s essentially surrendering U.S. ability to check Russian nuclear forces to Beijing.” With respect to Billingslea’s assertion that the Russians are “desperate” to extend new START, Kristensen said “Don’t also forget to ask U.S. military & Intel community who have all said it’s in U.S. interest to extend New START!”

“There is so much wrong and weird in this article,” Kristensen continued. “But more importantly, it shows an arms control chief who is under the impression that he can just ‘swagger’ into the stage, shake his finger at Moscow and Beijing, who will then timidly comply.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, during a regular press briefing on May 14, issued Moscow’s response to Billingslea by noting at the outset that Billingslea “fantasizes” about “drawbacks” in New START’s verification mechanism, “and accuses Russia of deliberately and maliciously exploiting them to the detriment of the Treaty’s normal implementation.” The unmistakable impression, she said, is that Billingslea “has not been brought up to speed on his new job. For example, he clearly has not found the time to read his department’s report on the compliance of foreign states, including Russia, with international treaties and agreements.” Billingslea, Zakahrova continued, “has essentially disavowed the work of his own colleagues and representatives of other U.S. departments that are involved in the implementation of this Treaty.”

As for Moscow’s “desperation” to get the treaty extended, Zakharova said that while Washington may not want to accept it, “Moscow is primarily guided by a sense of responsibility for the fate of peace, stability and security, which the U.S. constantly works to undermine.”

Zakharova also characterized as “far-fetched” the U.S. Administration’s attempt to link China to the bilateral U.S.-Russia process. She said that Russia is ready to support multilateral efforts to improve international security and safety, however “No country may be coerced into them.”

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