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Russia Says it Won’t Allow U.S. Inspection for Now of Its Nuclear Weapons

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The crisis over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spilled into the realm of arms control on Monday when Moscow said it won’t support the resumption of inspections of its nuclear arsenal under the New START nuclear arms treaty because of travel restrictions imposed by the U.S.

The accord, which cuts long-range nuclear arms, is the last major agreement regulating the nuclear competition between Washington and Moscow. Both sides have been observing its limits.

Weapons inspections were paused in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. wanted to have a team of inspectors resume on-site monitoring, U.S. officials said.

But Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday that American inspections couldn’t resume at this time because U.S.-driven international restrictions precluded Russian aircraft from flying Russian inspectors to American territory.

Those travel restrictions, as well as tightened visa regulations, the Foreign Ministry said, “create unilateral advantages for the United States and effectively deprive the Russian Federation of the right to carry out inspections on American soil.”

The foreign ministry added that Moscow was still committed to adhering to the New START treaty and that its decision to suspend cooperation with U.S. inspectors was temporary. The U.S. didn’t directly respond to the Russian statement but said that restarting inspections was important.

“The United States and Russia had paused inspection activity due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We believe the responsible thing to do is to resume inspections safely,” said a spokesman for the National Security Council. “Resuming mutually beneficial inspections under New START is a key part of our cooperation that must continue, even where geopolitical tensions are high.”

President Biden supported a five-year extension of the New START treaty as one of his first acts in office, which was quickly agreed to by Moscow. The agreement caps the number of nuclear warheads and bombs at 1,550 and includes provisions for on-site inspections to verify its limits.

The treaty is due to expire in early 2026. However, since the invasion of Ukraine, Russian and American arms control officials haven’t met to discuss future arms control arrangements.

In February, the Biden administration paused broader talks with Russia on strategic stability, including nuclear and other security issues, in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Aug. 1, Mr. Biden said in a statement that he was “ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework” that would replace the New START accord, which took effect in 2011.

His statement came on the first day of a major conference at the United Nations on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and was intended to demonstrate Washington’s support for arms control.

Mr. Biden, however, said that for those talks to begin Moscow needed to demonstrate that it would negotiate “in good faith.” Mr. Biden didn’t spell out what he wanted Russia to do.

Sergei Ryabkov, a Russian deputy foreign minister, said in an email to The Wall Street Journal on Friday that his country hasn’t received a proposal from the U.S. asking to resume talks on a follow-on to New START.

“As a matter of principle we are open for serious, pragmatic and result-oriented interaction aimed at reducing tensions and risks,” Mr. Ryabkov wrote. “It is not clear at all whether the U.S. would be ready to take into account our security interests and concerns.”

Arms control proponents urged both sides to get on with the talks despite their confrontation over Ukraine.

“Both sides need to stop playing games, restart inspections and begin talks on a treaty to replace New START,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a non-government organization. “Regardless of their differences, both sides have an obligation to reduce the nuclear danger.”

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com

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