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Merkley, Markey, Beyer, Garamendi Lead Congressional Push for More Expansive Nuclear Weapons Talks with Russia

Members of Congress push Biden to seek areas of common ground with Russia, including reductions to both sides’ nuclear arsenals that would reduce the risk of catastrophic war

The Chairs of a newly formed congressional working group on nuclear weapons and arms control—U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-VA-08), and U.S. Representative John Garamendi (D-CA-03)—are leading a congressional push urging the Biden administration to  re-engage Russia in regular, extensive, comprehensive dialogue on a on broad range of nuclear and arms control issues, following the extension of the New START Treaty. Merkley and Markey both serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

The Senators’ and Representatives’ effort comes as Russia continues to jail opposition leader Alexei Navalny, despite his failing health following his poisoning last year. While hot-button issues such as the ongoing crisis with Navalny, the buildup of troops along the Russia-Ukraine border, and Putin’s other acts of aggression within and outside of Russia’s borders capture headlines and increase diplomatic tensions, the administration has also signaled a willingness to prioritize work in areas where the United States can seek common ground with Russia, such as arms control, disarmament, and strategic stability.

“The United States and Russia, which together possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons, bear a special responsibility to ensure that we choose this safer, more secure path forward,” the members wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden. “We therefore appreciate your efforts to secure the extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the sole remaining nuclear arms-control agreement with Russia. That treaty, now in place until 2026, gives us mutual insight into the location, movement, and disposition of strategic nuclear weapons, and will help prevent a repetition of last century’s Cold War arms race.”

“Although New START is necessary, it is not by itself sufficient to tackle the threat that nuclear weapons present,” they continued. “It is our hope that you work expeditiously to pursue talks with Russia on a follow- on agreement that can safely achieve deeper, verifiable reductions in both sides’ excessive strategic nuclear arsenals, and put in place new limits on non-strategic weapons, including those delivered by intermediate and shorter-range missiles. Your administration should also seek to reach mutual understandings with Russia on limitations on strategic missile defenses and the development of new hypersonic weapons, as well as other new technologies that could threaten progress on practical measures to reduce the chance of an inadvertent nuclear war.”

The members’ letter comes on the heels of an encouraging White House readout of the Biden-Putin call last week, which mentioned a desire to “pursue a strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the extension of the New START Treaty.” The Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group seeks to build on this momentum by encouraging these potential talks toward future agreements to begin in earnest as soon as possible.

In addition to Merkley, Markey, Beyer, and Garamendi, today’s letter was signed by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Peter DeFazio(D-OR-04), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-07), Chuy Garcia (D-IL-04), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-03), Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), Sara Jacobs (D-CA-53), Hank Johnson, Jr. (D-GA-04), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Rick Larsen (D-WA-02), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY-12), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Seth Moulton (D-MA-06), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05), Mark Pocan (D-WI-02), Katie Porter (D-CA-45), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL-01), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Dina Titus (D-NV-01), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13), Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Jim Costa (D-CA-16).

The full text of the letter is available here.