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U.S. says Russia is violating nuclear treaty New START

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week the State Department notified Congress that Russia is not holding up its end of the bargain in the key arms control agreement. Inspections that stopped at the height of the pandemic have not yet resumed. And there are no signs of any real diplomacy to resolve this as the war in Ukraine strains relations. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The New START agreement is the only current deal that limits the number of nuclear warheads in the world's two biggest nuclear powers. Last year Russia abruptly called off a meeting about resuming inspections. A top White House official, Cara Abercrombie, wants to reschedule.

CARA ABERCROMBIE: You know, the United States will continue to emphasize to Russia that it does have a clear path for returning to full compliance, allow inspections on its territory just as Russia has done for years under the New START treaty.

KELEMEN: Russia says the U.S. is responsible for the stalemate because of what it calls the hybrid war by the West against Russia. That's how it sees the war in Ukraine. Still, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia does want to preserve New START.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DMITRY PESKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: "We consider the continuation of this treaty very important," he said, calling it a, quote, "hypothetically viable" treaty. Arms control experts don't see any quick fixes as long as Russia focuses on the war in Ukraine and tries to pressure the U.S. to stop supporting Kyiv. Hanna Notte of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation puts it this way.

HANNA NOTTE: The question is really how long the Kremlin will believe it can try to blackmail the United States into abandoning support for Ukraine by threatening disruption to the New START treaty.

KELEMEN: There are no signs that Russia is expanding the number of nuclear warheads beyond the treaty limits. But Stanford University's Steven Pifer told the Arms Control Association that it is getting harder to track.

STEVEN PIFER: The longer this goes without on-site inspections - we're now at the 2 1/2-year point - you know, it will raise questions about the ability to deter cheating.

KELEMEN: As this drags on, he expects the Biden administration will face more political pressure at home to walk away from the treaty. It expires in 2026. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGUN RAPRESENT SONG, "DOLLA DOLLA BILLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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