US President Donald Trump on Thursday announced that he plans to withdraw the US from the Open Skies Treaty with Russia, the third arms control pact that Trump has abrogated since taking office.
Trump said that Moscow had not stuck to its commitments under the 18-year-old pact, which was designed to improve military transparency and confidence between the superpowers.
“Russia did not adhere to the treaty,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “So until they adhere, we will pull out.”
Moscow quickly countered that the pullout would damage European security and harm the interests of US allies.
Ambassadors to NATO, whose members are also party to the treaty, yesterday called an urgent meeting to assess the consequences of the move, which could affect European security.
German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas urged Washington to reconsider, saying that Germany, France, Poland and Britain had repeatedly explained to the US that the problems with Russia in recent years “did not justify” pulling out.
The treaty “contributes to security and peace in almost the entire northern hemisphere,” Maas said. “We will continue implementing the treaty and do everything to preserve it.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Trump would formally notify the parties to the treaty yesterday of the US’ plans to withdraw, starting a six-month countdown to pullout.
“Effective six months from tomorrow, the United States will no longer be a party to the Treaty,” Pompeo said in a statement. “We may, however, reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the treaty.”
The Open Skies agreement permits each signatory country’s military to conduct a certain number of surveillance flights over another member country each year on short notice.
The aircraft can survey the territory below, collecting information and pictures of military installations and activities.
Including Russia and the US, the treaty has 35 signatories, athough one, Kyrgyzstan, has not yet ratified it.
The idea is that the more rival militaries know about each other, the smaller the chance of conflict, but the flights are also used to examine vulnerabilities of the other side.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that Russia “flagrantly, continuously violates its obligations” under the pact.
Moscow “implements the treaty in ways that contribute to military threats against the United States and our allies and partners,” he said.
He cited Russia’s refusal to allow flights over areas where Washington believes Moscow is deploying medium-range nuclear weapons that threaten Europe, including the Baltic Sea city of Kaliningrad and near the Russia-Georgia border.
Last year, Moscow also blocked flights meant to survey Russian military exercises, normally allowed under the pact.
The New York Times said Trump was also unhappy about a Russian flight over his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, three years ago.
“In this era of great power competition, we are looking to advocate for agreements that benefit all sides, and that include partners who comply responsibly with their obligations,” Hoffman said.
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