The treaty, which caps Washington and Moscow’s deployed nuclear weapons at 1,550 each, will expire on February 5 unless both sides agree to keep it in force

The agreement provides for regular on-site inspections of the other side‘s arsenal and is considered an insurance policy against a full-blown arms race

US President Joe Biden has decided to accept Russia’s offer to extend the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty for the full five years, in what could be a bright spot in an otherwise tense relationship in the opening days of the new administration, according to two administration officials.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which caps Washington and Moscow’s deployed nuclear weapons at 1,550 each, is set to expire on February 5 unless both sides agree to keep it in force.

The news, which was first reported by

, comes after Biden pledged during the campaign to save the pact, one of the last vestiges of Cold War-style diplomacy designed to curb the spread of atomic arms.

The treaty, which provides for regular on-site inspections of the other side’s arsenal, is considered an insurance policy against a full-blown arms race.

Russia first offered to extend the treaty without preconditions in early 2020. But as a precondition, the Trump administration sought to negotiate a new agreement that paved the way for a follow-on treaty that covered more weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons that are not included in New Start.

Those efforts were not successful in the face of Russian resistance and before the administration ran out of time.

The news that Biden will pursue a full extension was lauded by leading arms control advocates.

“President Biden’s offer signals a welcome return to serious diplomacy that provides a path to a safer and more secure future for all,” said Derek Johnson, chief executive of Global Zero, a leading disarmament group, in a statement. “Unless you’re a defence contractor, this is good news for everyone.”

But other leading arms control experts expressed some surprise by the decision. Some Biden advisers were calling for a one-year extension to pressure the Russians to begin negotiations on a follow-on treaty.

For example, Victoria Nuland, who has been nominated to be undersecretary of state, recently called for a one-year extension of the treaty.

“I didn’t know which way they would go,” said Tim Morrison, who oversaw the arms control portfolio on the National Security Council in the Trump administration.

“It strikes me as an indication that Biden just thinks he has too many other things going on to undertake an actual arms control negotiation of his own. He is sort of taking a gamble that he won’t get a chance to make a treaty.”

Morrison, who is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, believes the Russians “are not going to be interested in a follow-on discussion. At least not one Biden can sell.” For Moscow, he added, “any follow-on discussion probably needs to include space limitations and missile defence limitations and things that are just dead on arrival in the US.”

“The Russians are going to take a five-year extension, they are going to pocket it, and then they’ll say, ‘see you in 2026, Americans,’” he said.

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