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Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Joe Biden will face three urgent nuclear challenges upon entering the White House.

Why it matters: Arms control with Russia is crumbling, Iran’s uranium stockpiles are growing, and North Korea is as vexing and threatening as ever.

The last treaty constraining the world's two nuclear superpowers, New START, is due to expire 15 days after Biden takes office.

  • President Trump was skeptical of that Obama-era deal, but both Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin want to activate a five-year extension. Their approval and a bit of protocol are all that’s required.
  • That will avert an immediate arms race. It won’t address Russia’s new weapons systems and smaller "tactical" nukes — not to mention China’s unconstrained nuclear buildup.
  • The Trump administration pushed a proposal for the "future of arms control," involving both Russia and China, but it arrived to the issue late and didn't get very far.

The state of play: Biden sees New START, once extended, as the "foundation for new arms control arrangements." But in a climate of distrust with Moscow and Beijing — and with a plethora of competing priorities — he might struggle to break much more new ground than Trump did.

Biden also wants to move quickly to salvage the Iran nuclear deal — promising to re-enter it by lifting sanctions if Iran returns to compliance.

  • Iranian leaders have said they’d hold up their end of that deal. But they want the U.S. to make the first move and have waved away the idea of a broader, longer-lasting deal, which is Biden's ultimate objective.
  • The UN’s nuclear watchdog also revealed this week that Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium is currently 12 times what is permissible under the deal. Iran has also advanced its nuclear research and updated its facilities since Trump withdrew in 2018.
  • The Trump administration, meanwhile, is attempting to block the path back to the deal by piling on new non-nuclear sanctions that Biden might find politically tricky to lift.

What to watch: Negotiations on a follow-on deal will probably have to wait for Iran to elect its next president in June.

Trump will soon hand back the challenge Barack Obama said would be the most difficult of his presidency: North Korea.

  • Where things stand: Besides parading a giant new missile through Pyongyang last month, Kim Jong-un has gone relatively quiet. Things won't stay that way.
  • North Korea has a history of testing incoming U.S. administrations, and Kim has been clear that his suspensions of nuclear and long-range missile tests were only temporary.
  • The leaders aren’t starting on great terms. Biden called Kim a “thug” during the campaign, while North Korea labeled Biden a “rabid dog.”
  • Biden has proposed a bottom-up approach to negotiations, while working in conjunction with U.S. allies as well as China to apply pressure on Kim’s regime. In the meantime, North Korea's nuclear capabilities will continue to advance.

The bottom line: North Korea might be Biden's most difficult foreign policy challenge too.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated Jan 28, 2021 - World

Biden reviews U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and UAE

Trump struck several large arms deals with Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

The Biden administration has put on hold two big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, a State Department official told Axios.

Why it matters: The sales of F-35 jets and attack drones to the UAE and a large supply of munitions to Saudi Arabia will be paused pending a review. That signals a major policy shift from the Trump era, and may herald sharp tensions with both Gulf countries.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
28 mins ago - Science

The suborbital space race heats up

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are pushing to launch their first paying customers to the edge of space.

Why it matters: If the two companies succeed, it will open up a new market in the space industry, one focused on consumer-driven demand for expensive trips to suborbital space.

No one in Washington is happy with Facebook

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Oversight Board's decision Wednesday to uphold Facebook's suspension of former President Trump found few fans in Washington and exposed the company to a new round of attacks.

Why it matters: While the board urged Facebook back to the drawing board to better define its rules and processes around political speech, political actors on both left and right agree that the social media giant already has too much power.