President Joe Biden has proposed to Russia a five-year extension of a nuclear arms treaty that is otherwise set to expire in February, the White House said Thursday. Biden proposed the extension even as he asked the intelligence community to look closely into Russia's cyberattacks, its alleged interference in the 2020 election, and other actions, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. Russia has said for some time that it would welcome an extension of the New START treaty, which limits the number of US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons, the AP reports. The Trump administration made a late bid to extend the treaty, but its conditions were rejected by Russia. US allies, particularly in Europe, are sure to applaud Biden's proposal, which also provides an early signal of his intent to pursue arms control. Psaki noted that a five-year extension is permitted by the treaty, saying it "makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time."
Despite the extension proposal, Psaki said Biden was committed to holding Russia "to account for its reckless and adversarial actions," such as its alleged involvement in the Solar Winds hacking event, 2020 election interference, the poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, and the widely reported allegations that Russia may have offered bounties to the Taliban to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. The Pentagon's chief spokesman, John Kirby, said allowing the treaty to lapse would weaken US understanding of Russia's nuclear forces. "Extending the treaty's limitations on stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons until 2026 allows time and space for our two nations to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks to Americans," he said. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier Thursday called on the two nations to extend the treaty and later broaden it. The treaty, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads. (The US pulled out of another treaty with Russia last year.)