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US, Russia Near Deal to Extend Nuclear Treaty and Freeze Warheads

Russian President Vladimir Putin third from left at the National Defence Control Centre to oversee the test of a new Russian hypersonic missile system called Avangard which can carry nuclear and conventional warheads in Moscow Russia

The apparent breakthrough, coming after months of hard talks and two weeks before the USA presidential election, appeared to narrow the gap between the sides over the fate of the 2010 New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement, which is due to expire in February.

The U.S. and Russian Federation are nearing a short-term extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, their last remaining nuclear nonproliferation agreement, which is due to expire in February, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said Wednesday.

The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry marked a shift in Moscow's position after Russia and the US rejected each other's offers regarding the New START treaty that expires in February.

But with U.S. President Donald Trump trailing in polls for next month's election, his administration has indicated it would support preserving the treaty.

Earlier this month, Russia's President Vladimir Putin suggested prolonging the original New START treaty for another year. While Russia has offered a "clean" renewal of the existing treaty, without preconditions, the Trump administration has first sought to expand it to include China, then demanded a limit on total nuclear warheads as a condition for agreeing to an extension.

But Russia has not publicly agreed to USA demands for additional verification.

Last year, Trump pulled out of a Cold War-era arms control pact banning ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500-5,500 km), citing Russian violations denied by Moscow.

With both Moscow and Washington leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) a year ago, the New START is the only major accord on nuclear weapons still in place between the rival powers.

But Russia is believed to hold a bigger, more varied arsenal of tactical weapons. Moscow appears to still resist the deeper inspections, which aren't envisaged by the New START.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, part of the administration that stuck the new START deal, favours an extension. It said the extension would give the two sides time to discuss nuclear arms control in greater depth.

However, the Russian foreign ministry said the pact will be possible "strictly and exclusively with the understanding that the "freeze" will not be accompanied by any additional requirements" from the USA side. The United States has called for China to be included in a broader treaty that would replace New START.

The U.S. push for the treaty comes as the White House has moved to complete work on several foreign policy goals during the election season.