President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the U.S. will withdraw from a treaty that permits participating nations to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over one another after Russia allegedly violated its terms on multiple occasions.
The Open Skies Treaty went into effect in 2002 and is signed by 35 nations.
The treaty aims to prevent armed conflicts between nations by promoting transparency about military activities.
The New York Times reported Thursday the U.S. would exit the deal, citing anonymous senior Trump administration officials.
Trump himself would later confirm the news to reporters, though he didn’t rule out the possibility of the U.S. coming to a new agreement with Russia on the existing treaty or signing a new deal altogether.
“I think we have a very good relationship with Russia, but Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty,” Trump said.
“Until they adhere, we will pull out, he added. “But there’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together.”
“I think that’s what going to happen is we’re going to pull out, and they’re going to come back and want to make a deal.”
The treaty requires participating nations to make all of their territories available for surveillance.
But Russia has excluded certain portions of its territory from being monitored, according to the State Department.
“Russia has refused access to observation flights within a 10-kilometer corridor along its border with the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, thereby attempting to advance false Russian claims that these occupied territories are independent states,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Thursday.
“Russia’s designation of an Open Skies refueling airfield in Crimea, Ukraine, is similarly an attempt to advance its claim of purported annexation of the peninsula, which the United States does not and will never accept,” he said.
“Russia has also illegally placed a restriction on flight distance over Kaliningrad, despite the fact that this enclave has become the location of a significant military build-up that Russian officials have suggested includes short-range nuclear-tipped missiles targeting NATO,” Pompeo added.
“In 2019, Russia unjustifiably denied a shared United States and Canada observation flight over a large Russian military exercise.”
Due to those restrictions, Pompeo said further American participation in the treaty is “untenable.”
Reactions from lawmakers in Washington to the announcement that the U.S. is pulling out of the treaty varied along political lines.
Arkansas GOP Sen. Sen. Tom Cotton, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the treaty and praised Trump’s decision to withdraw from it.
“The Open Skies Treaty started life as a good-faith agreement between major powers and died an asset of Russian intelligence. For Mr. Putin, the treaty was just another scheme to snatch a military and surveillance advantage over the U.S. and NATO,” he said in a statement.
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who also sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the move.
Shaheen said in a statement that withdrawing from the treaty is a “dangerous and misguided decision” and that it “cripples our ability to conduct aerial surveillance of Russia, while allowing Russian reconnaissance flights over U.S. bases in Europe to continue.”
According to the Arms Control Association, the Open Skies Treaty was first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, but the then-Soviet Union rejected any such proposal, citing concerns about spying.
“President George H.W. Bush revived the idea in May 1989 and negotiations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact started in February 1990,” the ACA’s website reads.
“Russia conducted the first observation flight under the treaty in August 2002, while the United States carried out its first official flight in December 2002. In 2008, states-parties celebrated the 500th overflight. Between 2002 and 2019, more than 1,500 flights have taken place,” the ACA said of the treaty.
A 2017 Russian flight over the eastern U.S. was highly publicized when it flew at a low altitude over Washington, D.C., and later over Bedminster, New Jersey, where Trump was vacationing at the time.
And here’s the plane now as it flies to Bedminster pic.twitter.com/PqjHcbHXOV
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) August 9, 2017
Politico reported the flight’s path was an apparent “attempt to troll President Donald Trump.”
“I don’t know of any military facilities there,” a Department of Defense official told Politico at the time.
The withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty is expected to formally take place in six months, Pompeo said.
UPDATE, May 26, 2020: This article’s headline has been updated to reflect that the withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty has not formally taken place.
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