WASHINGTON – The United States announced on Thursday its intention to withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies treaty that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member states, the Trump government’s latest move to take the country out of a major global treaty.
The government said that Russia has repeatedly violated the terms of the pact. According to senior officials, the withdrawal will formally take place within six months, based on the terms of the treaty withdrawal.
“I think we have a very good relationship with Russia. But Russia did not abide by the treaty. So until they abide, we will back off, “US President Donald Trump told reporters.
He said there is a good chance that we would enter into a new agreement or do something to restore that agreement.
NATO allies and other countries such as Ukraine have pressed Washington to remain in the treaty, and Trump’s decision could exacerbate tensions within the alliance.
The government also pulled the United States out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia last year.
The officials, speaking to a small group of reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the decision followed a six-month evaluation that found multiple instances of Russian refusal to adhere to the treaty.
“During this review, it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in the interest of America to remain a party to the Open Skies Convention,” said one official.
A government official said that extensive talks were being held with US allies leading up to the decision, but eventually Washington decided “it is no longer in our interest” to participate.
At the same time, the official said that US officials have started talks with Russian officials in recent days about a new round of nuclear weapons negotiations to “begin developing the next generation of nuclear weapons control measures”.
“The United States is committed to arms control. We are committed to European security. And we are committed to a future that places meaningful restrictions on nuclear weapons, “the official said.
The Open Skies Treaty, proposed by US President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, was signed in 1992 and entered into force in 2002. The idea is to allow member states to conduct supervisory flights over each other’s countries to build trust.
The officials cited Russia’s longstanding effort to violate the conditions, such as by restricting US flights over neighboring Georgia and its military enclave in Kaliningrad.
In addition, they said Russia has used its own overflights from U.S. and European territory to identify critical U.S. infrastructure for possible wartime attacks.
Some experts fear that a US exit from the treaty, which halts Russia’s overflights from the United States, could lead to Moscow’s withdrawal, which would end Russia’s overflights by the remaining members, which European security would weaken at a time when Russian-backed separatists are holding on to parts of Ukraine and Georgia.
Trump’s decision to leave the treaty is “premature and irresponsible,” said Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association.
The 35 state parties to the Open Skies Treaty are: Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark (including Greenland), Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland , Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.