Trump to Exit Open Skies Treaty, Claiming Russian Violations

President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw from the Open Skies treaty, an arms-control pact designed to promote transparency between U.S. and Russia, claiming Russian violations.

Senior administration officials said Russia will be officially informed on Friday that the U.S. plans to exit the 35-country agreement, which gives nations permission to traverse each other’s airspace to collect information on military activities.

The move will take effect in six months, according to the officials, who said a review Trump ordered last year determined it is no longer in the country’s interest to remain a party to the 18-year-old agreement.

Withdrawing from the pact will leave one arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia: New START, which limits the number of nuclear missiles each nation can deploy. It expires in February 2021.

The officials said Trump reached the decision partly because Russia has blocked the U.S. from conducting surveillance flights around areas near Georgia and Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, which are permitted under the treaty. They also said Moscow denied overflights of Russian military exercises. Those American complaints have been longstanding.

The Trump administration has also concluded that Russia has used flights over the U.S. and Europe to identify critical infrastructure that could be targeted for military attacks, the officials said.

The officials requested anonymity to discuss the decision before it’s officially announced.

The treaty allows countries to conduct unarmed surveillance flights with little notice. It was designed to promote trust between NATO and Eastern bloc countries following the Cold War and reduce the chances of armed conflict.

Senior administration officials said that U.S. allies were consulted before the decision was reached, but did not say whether other countries urged Washington to remain in the pact. The decision could anger European signatories that have openly supported the treaty.

The move follows Trump’s decision last year to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War pact banning short- and medium-range missiles.

A senior Trump administration official held a call with a Russian counterpart to discuss a new nuclear arms control pact in recent days, according to the officials.

The two sides agreed to meet in person to further discuss the framework of a deal once such a gathering is possible, though officials said the meeting might have to take place via video link due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has pushed for a new nuclear arms agreement with Russia and China, whose nuclear arsenal is only a fraction of the size of Washington’s and Moscow’s but which the U.S. claims is growing.

Beijing has repeatedly rejected the idea of participating in trilateral nuclear arms control talks with the U.S. and Russia.

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