World News

Senior U.S. official: Russia in compliance with New START weapons treaty

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Assistant Secretary for International Security Christopher A. Ford attends the 2nd Preparatory session of the 2020 Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday that Russia remains in compliance with its obligations under the New START weapons control treaty, but took a hard line on overall weapons policy by saying Moscow is not complying with most other arms control obligations.

“We assess that Russia does still remain in compliance with its New START obligations, but its behavior in connection with most other arms control agreements — and not merely the ill-fated INF Treaty — has been nothing short of appalling,” Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, told a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

President Donald Trump in August pulled Washington out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), another landmark strategic arms accord, citing violations by Russia that Moscow denies.

Ford said Russia’s non-strategic arms need to be a priority in any future weapons agreement. “Russia is projected to expand its number of non-strategic weapons considerably over the next decade,” Ford said.

Russia has formally proposed to the United States that the two nuclear superpowers extend their New START arms control treaty by five years, though Moscow would also settle for a shorter extension.

The New START accord, which is due to expire in February 2021, is the last major nuclear arms control treaty between Moscow and Washington. It limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy to 1,550 each.

Russia warned last month that there was already not enough time left for Moscow and Washington to negotiate a full-fledged replacement to the treaty and that time was running out to agree on an extension.

Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 he thought the New START accord was a bad deal for the United States. U.S. officials have said he will only decide next year whether or not to extend the treaty.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrea Ricci