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Trump to withdraw US from landmark Open Skies Treaty

'Until they adhere we will pull out, but there's a very good chance we will make a new agreement,' says US president

Michael Hernandez   | 21.05.2020
Trump to withdraw US from landmark Open Skies Treaty


President Donald Trump said Thursday he is on the cusp of withdrawing the US from a nearly two-decades old pact meant to reduce the likelihood Washington and Moscow enter a military showdown.

Trump continued to tout what he said is a "very good relationship" with Russia while addressing reporters at the White House, but said "Russia didn't adhere to the treaty."

"So until they adhere we will pull out, but there's a very good chance we will make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together," he said. "I think what's going to happen is we're going to pull out and they're going to come back and want to make a deal."

The Open Skies Treaty allows nations to fly above each other's territory on military reconnaissance flights as a measure to help bolster confidence neither country is imminently preparing for war. About 35 nations are party to the treaty, including the US, Russia, Turkey, many European nations and Canada. 

It is part of wider arms control efforts meant to decrease the potential for war, and could signal Trump's likelihood of exiting the New START Treaty with Russia, which limits the nations' deployed nuclear arsenals, when it expires later this year. 

Trump has insisted China be included in what is now a bilateral agreement between Washington and Moscow, and continued to state his belief that "we're probably going to make a deal with Russia."

"And China will be maybe included in that, we'll see what happens," he said.

The US president will inform Russia on Friday of his decision to leave the Open Skies Treaty, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an unusually lengthy statement. Once that is done the US will formally withdraw six months later. 

But the US may "reconsider" the decision should Russia "Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty," Pompeo said. 

"At its core, the Treaty was designed to provide all signatories an increased level of transparency and mutual understanding and cooperation, regardless of their size," he said.

"Russia’s implementation and violation of Open Skies, however, has undermined this central confidence-building function of the Treaty – and has, in fact, fueled distrust and threats to our national security – making continued U.S. participation untenable," he added.

Earlier Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman maintaned the US remains "fully committed to agreements that advance US, ally and partner security."

But he said Russia "flagrantly and continuously violates its obligations under Open Skies and implements the treaty in ways that contribute to military threats against the United States, our allies and partners."

"We have been clear on these concerns for years," he told reporters. 

The US has repeatedly said Russia is in violation of the treaty since 2017, citing in particular Russia's decision to limit flight distances to 311 miles (500 kilometers) above a Russian exclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, denying flights near the Georgian-Russian border, and rejecting a previously-approved flight over a military exercise in 2019.

Hoffman said Russia's decision to limit flight distances over Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave in Europe, "reduces transparency over a highly militarized area."

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