Gorbachev expects Biden to extend last Cold War arms deal, but says more needed

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, said he expects U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to extend the last major nuclear arms control treaty between Moscow and Washington when it expires next month, but that the two countries have much more to do.

FILE PHOTO: Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev addresses the audience after the Russian premiere of the documentary film "Meeting Gorbachev" in Moscow, Russia November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo

In an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency published on Monday, Gorbachev, 89, said he was counting on Biden, whom he said he had met many times, to extend the New START treaty.

The pact limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads, deployed missiles and heavy bombers the world’s two biggest nuclear powers can have and is widely regarded as the cornerstone of global arms control.

“During the election campaign, he (Biden) said that the treaty must be extended,” said Gorbachev. “But I think that is just the first step. We need to agree on further cuts. We need to discuss and adjust military doctrines.”

Gorbachev, whose 1980s arms control push and democracy-oriented reforms helped end the Cold War, is still listened to by some in the Kremlin because of his vast experience managing relations with Washington.

Biden, who will succeed Donald Trump as U.S. president on Jan. 20, said he favours extending New START, which lapses on Feb. 5, though it remains unclear how long any extension might be.

Russia has offered to roll New Start over by anything from one to five years without new conditions, something Washington has been keen to attach.

Under Trump, Washington formally pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, accusing Moscow of violating it, something Moscow denied.

Washington also withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty in November last year, an arms control and verification agreement.

Gorbachev, who called for political will and dialogue, said he hoped the Biden administration would endorse a commitment the two sides had made at a Soviet-era summit in 1985.

That declaration said nuclear war was unacceptable, could have no winner, and that neither side would try to gain military superiority.

“Russia recently proposed that the Americans confirm this formula,” said Gorbachev. “Now a new administration will come and it would be good to renew our proposal.”

Gorbachev also said the United States and Russia should in time try to get other nuclear-armed countries involved in arms control talks.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Editing by Timothy Heritage