Looking for a last minute major foreign policy 'win' going into the November election, the Trump administration has claimed that it's on the cusp of a significant arms control deal with Russia to extend the New START treaty.
Specifically the two sides which have been in talks in recent months over extending New START, the landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty set to expire February 2021, appear to be making progress, at least according to the White House account.
“We are very, very close to a deal,” an unnamed US official told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. “Now that the Russians have agreed to a warhead freeze, I do not see why we cannot work out the remaining issues in the coming days.”
While Moscow has said it's ready to extend for five years, what's being tentatively agreed to is a one year extension with a freeze on warheads during that time period.
According to CBS, the breakthrough in a recent stalemate on the issue came when Moscow dropped its "without pre-conditions" stipulation:
The opening came Tuesday after Russia's Foreign Ministry said Moscow is willing to extend New START with a "freeze," after Putin said last week that he would only agree to an extension "without pre-conditions."
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said of the impending conditional extension, “We appreciate the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control.” She added: “The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same.”
However, as of Tuesday it's still anything but a "done deal":
The Russia's statement is pretty rigid: "Our proposal can only and exclusively be implemented on the understanding that the United States will not advance any additional conditions with regard to freezing the arsenals."https://t.co/Xg4AaHIS49— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) October 20, 2020
The clock has been winding down on the last major arms control agreement between Moscow and Washington, after prior late Cold War era treaties like the INF and Open Skies faltered. The Kremlin has every interest also in seeing who wins the White House after November, given especially that Biden has clearly indicated he's ready to agree to the unconditional 5-year extension of the landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty.
Washington has so far during prior talks in Vienna and more recently Helsinki remained firm it its position that it would only consider a short-term extension if a new agreement brings all nuclear warheads including those possessed by China into the framework.
Should a one year extension indeed be firmed up, it's unlikely that the issue of bringing China into the framework is actually on the table at this point; instead, the extension would merely buy valuable time to strike a permanent new agreement. And if Trump is not re-elected, it's more than likely the China issue would become moot.