WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump is willing to hold a summit with the leaders of Russia, China, Britain and France - the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - to discuss arms control, a senior administration official said on Friday.
Trump wants to use the meeting to try to make progress on a three-way arms control deal with Russia and China, the official said. The timing for a summit was unclear.
“The United States will use this opportunity to bring both Russia and China into the international arms control framework and head off a costly arms race,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised the idea of a summit of what is known as the P5 to discuss a variety of global issues. Neither Russia nor China are members of the Group of Seven nations that will hold their annual summit in Camp David, Maryland, this year.
The official would not speculate on where a P5 summit would be held, but one logical option could be the U.N. General Assembly, where world leaders gather annually in September.
“The president has made clear that he is ready to meet with any world leader at any time to advance U.S. national security interests. The United States will work with the other P5 countries to develop and organise such a meeting,” the official said.
Trump has sought to persuade China to join the United States and Russia in talks on an arms control accord to replace the 2010 New START treaty between Washington and Moscow that expires next February.
The nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia dwarf that of China. But Beijing’s military buildup in the Asia-Pacific region has alarmed U.S. allies and policymakers.
China has rejected Trump’s proposal, arguing that its smaller nuclear force is defensive and poses no threat.
“Both Russia and China have an interest in avoiding a United States that is unconstrained in its ability to modernize and field nuclear forces,” the official said.
The official added, “As the major military powers of the day, and members of the P5, Russia, China, and the United States have an obligation to reduce risk and engage in arms control. Not doing so would be irresponsible.”
New START maintains the only remaining limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear deployments. Some experts and lawmakers have called Trump’s proposal to include Beijing in a new treaty a “poison pill” strategy aimed at killing New START and ending the restraints on U.S. deployments.
New START restricted the United States and Russia to deploying no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads, the lowest level in decades, and limited the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.
It can be renewed for up to five years if both sides agree. Moscow has offered to immediately extend the treaty. Washington has yet to decide.
China is estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Sandra Maler and Sonya Hepinstall