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Amid tensions, US and Russia hold ‘substantive’ arms talks

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The meeting between top diplomats led to no breakthroughs, although the two sides have agreed to meet again in September.

Senior diplomats from the United States and Russia held what the US State Department described as “substantive and professional” talks on arms control and other strategic issues on Wednesday amid other differences that have sent relations into a tailspin.

The discussions between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov at the US diplomatic mission in Geneva produced no breakthroughs. But the State Department said the two agreed on another high-level round of talks in late September.

“We remain committed, even in times of tension, to ensuring predictability and reducing the risk of armed conflict and threat of nuclear war,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to resume strategic talks when they met in Geneva last month.

“Today’s meeting in Geneva was the beginning of this dialogue with the Russian Federation,” Price said.

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive to meet, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]

“The US delegation discussed US policy priorities and the current security environment, national perceptions of threats to strategic stability, prospects for new nuclear arms control, and the format for future Strategic Stability Dialogue sessions.”

TASS news agency cited Ryabkov as saying he was satisfied with the consultations and that the United States showed readiness for constructive dialogue at the talks.

There was a “comprehensive discussion of the approaches” to maintaining strategic stability, arms control prospects and risk reduction measures, Russia’s Radio Sputnik reported, citing the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Armed with mandates from their leaders, it was the first time in nearly a year that the sides had held so-called strategic stability talks amid frictions over a range of issues, including arms control.

Biden and Putin, whose countries hold 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, agreed last month to launch a bilateral dialogue on strategic stability to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures”.

Russia in January approved a five-year extension of the bilateral New START nuclear arms control treaty days before it was set to expire. The treaty limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers that Russia and the United States can deploy.

The two sides had been expected to discuss which weapons systems and technologies are of greatest concern.

The Russians have long insisted there can be no strategic stability without limits on defensive as well as offensive weapons. Russia left no doubt that it will insist that missile defence be part of a future arms control arrangement.

For its part, the Biden administration wants Moscow to agree to limit its so-called non-strategic nuclear weapons, which are not covered by New START. Some arms control experts think this presents the possibility of a tradeoff — negotiations covering missile defences as well as non-strategic weapons.

Wednesday’s meeting was held as both sides expressed new mutual animosity following derogatory comments from Biden about Russia and a retort from Putin’s spokesman.

Speaking to members of the US intelligence community, Biden said Tuesday that Putin was in “real trouble” because the Russian economy has “nuclear weapons and oil wells and nothing else”.

“He knows he’s in real trouble, which makes him even more dangerous, in my view,” Biden said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded indignantly on Wednesday, saying Biden’s remarks were “inherently incorrect” and based on “erroneous knowledge and understanding of modern Russia”. He noted that Biden was speaking to the US intelligence community, and “such rousing statements are in demand from this audience.”

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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