US President-elect Donald Trump says he will offer to end sanctions imposed on Russia if the Kremlin agrees to “substantially” reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal.
In an interview with The Times of London published on Monday, Trump raised the prospect of the first big nuclear arms reduction deal with Moscow since President Barack Obama signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 2010.
"They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia," he was quoted as saying by The Times.
"For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it,” Trump stressed. “But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are going to benefit."
Washington and its allies have levied broad economic sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s alleged involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
Late last year, Trump said that the US must "greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." Around the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin also called for the strengthening of his country’s "strategic nuclear forces."
The US and Russia have by far the largest nuclear weapons arsenals in the world. The US has 1,367 nuclear warheads on deployed strategic missiles and bombers, while Russia has 1,796 deployed warheads, according to the latest assessment by the US State Department.
The two nuclear powers agreed to limit the number of deployable long-range, strategic nuclear weapons under the 2010 New START treaty.
Trump has come under criticism from Democrats and Republicans for suggesting that he would work to improve relations with Moscow despite accusations by the US intelligence community that the Russian government meddled in the November presidential election through cyberhacking.
An unsubstantiated intelligence report has also claimed that Russia is in possession of compromising information on Trump. The president-elect has dismissed the dossier as "fake news" and “phony stuff."
In the interview with The Times, Trump was critical of Russia’s air campaign in Syria. "I think it's a very rough thing," he said.
Trump also repeated his view that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was an obsolete security alliance.
"I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete," Trump said, referring to comments he made during his presidential campaign. "It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right."