DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. Now, in Helsinki yesterday, Presidents Trump and Putin also embraced restarting stalled arms control talks. For all the bad blood between the U.S. and Russia, those two nations still inspect one another's vast nuclear arsenals and both have sharply curtailed the number of nuclear weapons poised to launch. But that coordination is thanks to two arms control treaties, which are now at risk. NPR's David Welna explains.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Moments before Trump and Putin showed up at their post-talks news conference, the issue of nuclear arms control was already creating a stir in the room.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible) nuclear weapons (unintelligible).
WELNA: Security guards hauled away a man holding a sign reading Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty. It was a reference to a U.N. treaty approved last year that neither the U.S. nor Russia, which together have more than 13,000 nukes, signed onto. Still, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a short time later through an interpreter that, as major nuclear powers, the U.S. and Russia bear what he called special responsibility for maintaining international security.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) We mentioned this during the negotiations. It's crucial that we fine-tune the dialect on strategic stability and global security and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We submitted our American colleagues a note with a number of specific suggestions.
WELNA: Those include, Putin said, an extension of the soon-to-expire New START treaty, discussions about U.S. missile defense systems and issues with the troubled Reagan-era Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. Olga Oliker directs the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She says this was little more than Putin's standard wish list.
OLGA OLIKER: These are things that they actually could have put together into something of a joint statement because there is enough agreement, even if its agreement to talk about the disagreements, to have gotten a get out of the summit on these topics. And instead what we have is that the Russians passed over a paper with suggestions.
WELNA: And even though it was clearly Putin who took the initiative on more arms talks, Trump seemed eager to chime in.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Whether it's nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping - 'cause we have to do it, ultimately - that's probably the most important thing that we can be working on.
WELNA: But Dimitri Simes, who heads the Center for the National Interest here in Washington, does not expect the status quo to change anytime soon.
DIMITRI SIMES: I think that you will not get any arms control agreements out of Helsinki. Neither side is quite prepared for that.
WELNA: In fact, Trump has few seasoned non-proliferation experts in his administration. Yesterday he blamed the inaction on arms control on the Justice Department's probe into Russian interference in the election that brought him to power.
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TRUMP: It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous what's going on with the probe.
WELNA: Putin, for his part, did tell Fox News that he'd be willing to extend the New START treaty. But the CSIS's Oliker says, given Russia's invasion of Ukraine and then annexation of Crimea four years ago, it's not clear how much enthusiasm there might be in Washington for extending that Obama-era arms deal.
OLIKER: At the State Department, other parts of the U.S. government, there is a desire not to reach any agreements with the Russians without some sort of resolution of the Ukraine crisis.
WELNA: About which, she adds, Trump said nothing yesterday, at least publicly. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.
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