At odds on myriad issues, US, Russia to hold strategic talks

In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks during a meeting with South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23, 2021. Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it won't do in protest of what it calls U.S. hostility. (South Korea Foreign Ministry via AP)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and Russia will hold the first round of strategic and arms control talks of the Biden administration next week in Switzerland, the two countries announced on Friday.

Wednesday’s discussions in Geneva come as the two countries are embroiled in myriad disputes ranging from weapons systems to cyberattacks, Ukraine and allegations of Russian interference in U.S. elections.

However, the Geneva talks are expected to deal mainly with strategic stability issues as Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agreed during their meeting in the same Swiss city last month.

“This meeting follows up on a commitment made between President Biden and Russian President Putin to have a deliberate and robust dialogue between our two nations that will seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures,” the State Department said.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who is currently traveling in Asia and will meet China’s foreign minister on Sunday, will lead the U.S. delegation, accompanied by the newly confirmed top U.S. arms control diplomat, Bonnie Jenkins. Russia’s team will be headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The two sides expect to explore how to move beyond the New START treaty that Biden and Putin agreed earlier this year to extend until 2026. That treaty had been due to expire in February and former President Donald Trump’s administration had not moved to extend it.

The Trump administration had withdrawn from several arms control and related agreements with the Russians during its time in office, causing angst among U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere. The previous administration said the pacts were outdated and Russia was in persistent violation of them.

The Biden administration wants further arms negotiations to include Russia’s numerically superior arsenal of non-strategic nuclear missiles, which are not covered by New START and are a particular concern to European allies.

The Russians have said they will insist that any new agreement include negotiated limits on U.S. missile defenses, which they see as a longer-term threat to the viability of their strategic arsenal.