Moscow/ Washington: Russia and China criticized the U.S. after its chief arms-control negotiator sought to embarrass Beijing by posting a photo of Chinese flags and empty chairs for delegates who weren’t scheduled to attend talks aimed at rescuing a key nuclear treaty.
“Vienna talks about to start. China is a no-show,” Marshall Billingslea wrote in a tweet sent before the scheduled talks with Russia began on Monday. “Beijing still hiding behind GreatWallofSecrecy on its crash nuclear build-up, and so many other things. We will proceed with Russia, notwithstanding.”
China, which hadn’t been due to take part in the talks, attacked the stunt. “U.S. performance art?” the country’s permanent mission to the Austrian capital asked in a tweet. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s director-general of arms control, Fu Cong, said on Twitter that displaying China’s national flag on a negotiating table without its consent was an “odd scene,” adding: “Wonder how LOW you can go?”
Russia also condemned the U.S. action. Its ambassador to Austria, Dmitry Lyubinsky, published a photo of the meeting on Facebook without any Chinese flags. “There weren’t any Chinese flags in the negotiating room and couldn’t have been at Russian-American consultations on strategic stability,” he told the state news service RIA Novosti.
In a tweet later Monday, Billingslea said the first round of talks had been “very positive” and the two sides had set up working groups and agreed in principle on a second round. That tweet included a photo of him and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Ryabkov, smiling broadly.
The arms-control talks between senior U.S. and Russian officials took place as the clock ticks down on the expiration in February of the New START treaty limiting the strategic arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers. President Donald Trump’s administration contends that any new agreement should include China, and it has urged Moscow to help bring Beijing into negotiations.
China has refused, while Russia accuses the U.S. of seeking to use the issue as a pretext to “bury” the New Start treaty. Moscow argues that the U.S. and Russia should concentrate first on agreeing a five-year extension to the agreement that’s permitted under their 2010 accord.
Russia’s delegation insisted on the removal of the Chinese flags that the U.S. photographed before the start of the meeting, Kommersant newspaper reported. The State Department didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The U.S.-Russia talks ended without a clear statement on results and prospects for continued negotiations.-Bloomberg
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