Russia has "unilaterally postponed" nuclear arms control negotiations with the U.S. that were to be held in Cairo this week, a State Department spokesperson said Monday.
The talks were to begin Tuesday in the Egyptian capital with a focus on resuming annual inspections as is required under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last major arms control treaty between the two nuclear powers.
The U.S. and Russia mutually agreed to suspend the inspections in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. In response to Washington's support of Ukraine after Russia invaded in February, Moscow suspended the inspections in August.
A State Department spokesperson said that Russia had postponed the latest series of meetings and "stated that it would propose new dates."
“The United States is ready to reschedule at the earliest possible date as resuming inspections is a priority for sustaining the treaty as an instrument of stability,” the spokesperson said.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The relationship between Moscow and the White House is at its lowest point in decades after Russia invaded Ukraine, a U.S. ally. In response, Washington has sent billions of dollars of military aid and equipment to Ukraine, as the smaller country has maintained its defense and recently gained ground through a series of successful counteroffensives.
This would have been the first meeting of the treaty's Bilateral Consultative Commission, which discusses issues related to the treaty's implementation, since October 2021 — months before Russia's invasion. The summit was viewed as a possible venue for Russia and the U.S. to show their resolve to maintain open lines of communication and pursue arms control agreements despite the war in Ukraine.
Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, has said that the intention was to keep the focus of the talks on the New START Treaty and avoid having it stray to anything regarding Ukraine. Concerns that Russia would use a nuclear weapon as it struggled on the battlefield grew before waning recently.
The New START Treaty "has to do with the disposition of our respective nuclear assets," Price said at a news briefing on Nov. 8, Election Day.
The meeting and the treaty represent "our commitment to risk reduction, to strategic stability, something we remain committed to, something that is profoundly in the bilateral interest, and we hope the upcoming meeting is constructive,” he said.
Price added that the U.S. had "made clear to Russia" that the two countries' disagreement over "Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine" did not prevent Russian inspectors "from conducting New START treaty inspections in the United States."
Rose Gottemoeller, a former deputy secretary general of NATO, said she was not ultimately concerned about the latest delay. At this point, she said, it appeared necessary "for technical reasons."
"Oftentimes, both our government and their government takes additional time to get their work finished," she said. "If it turns out it's being postponed and turns into a long delay, then we'll have something to be concerned about."
Both sides, Gottemoeller said, are also still working out new inspection methods after the spread of the coronavirus. That has kept inspections from restarting since the original suspension.
"It's taken a while to work out the Covid protocols," she said. "What distance do the inspectors have to keep from others? What kind of masks do they have to wear? All those little details have to be worked out and agreed upon."