US announces decision to leave open skies surveillance treaty

The Open Skies Treaty allows each state-party to carry out short-notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the others' territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

AFP
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington, DC, on May 21, 2020. - Trump says the US 'will pull out' of Open Skies arms control treaty.
WASHINGTON: The US will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, a major accord that permits unarmed aerial surveillance flights over 34 participating countries, citing repeated Russian violations of its terms.

India is not a member of this treaty that came into force on January 1, 2002. Most of the participating countries are in North America Europe and Central Asia.

The Open Skies Treaty allows each state-party to carry out short-notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the others' territories to collect data on military forces and activities.


President Donald Trump blamed Russia's non-compliance with the treaty for such a decision by the United States.

"Russia didn't adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out. But there's a very good chance we'll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together," Trump told reporters at the White House.

"Whenever there's an agreement that another party doesn't agree to, we have many of those agreements around the world, where it's a two-party agreement, but they don't adhere to it and we do. When we have things like that, we pull out also," he said.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US will submit notice of its decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies to the Treaty Depositories and to all other states party to the Treaty.

"Effective six months from tomorrow, the United States will no longer be a party to the Treaty," he said, adding that the US would, however, reconsider its withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty.

Trump expressed hope that the US may negotiate a deal with Russia on arms treaty and China will be maybe included in that.

"We'll see what happens," he said.
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"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. We've had a very good relationship lately with Russia. And you can see that with respect to oil and what's happening with oil," Trump said.

In his statement, Pompeo alleged that Russia's implementation and violation of Open Skies treaty has undermined the central confidence-building function of the pact - and has, in fact, fuelled distrust and threats to US national security - making continued American participation untenable.
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"While the United States along with our Allies and partners that are States Parties to the Treaty have lived up to our commitments and obligations under the Treaty, Russia has flagrantly and continuously violated the Treaty in various ways for years.

This is not a story exclusive to just the Treaty on Open Skies, unfortunately, for Russia has been a serial violator of many of its arms control obligations and commitments," Pompeo said.

Despite the Open Skies Treaty's aspiration to build confidence and trust by demonstrating through unrestricted overflights that no party has anything to hide, Russia has consistently acted as if it were free to turn its obligations off and on at will, unlawfully denying or restricting Open Skies observation flights whenever it desires, he added.

Pompeo alleged that 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.

Russia's designation of an Open Skies refuelling 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.

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, he said.

In 2019, Russia unjustifiably denied a shared United States and Canada observation flight over a large Russian military exercise.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell in a statement alleged that for years, Russia has systematically violated the terms of the Open Skies Treaty to the detriment of the US, its allies, and partners.

"No country should tolerate such treaty abuses and we're taking action to right this wrong. America can't be expected to keep its skies open to Russian monitoring flights while Russia is unwilling to reciprocate on equal terms.

Russia's treaty violations have undermined the central purpose of the treaty while imperiling its neighbours and jeopardising US national security," Grenell said.

Meanwhile, Russia said it has not received an official notification from the US yet about its decision to leave the Open Skies Treaty, but if it happens, it will be regrettable, Vladimir Ermakov, the head of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said.

"If it does happen, it will be very regrettable, of course. But unfortunately, it goes with the general policy of the current (US)administration (which aims to) derail all agreements on arms control.

"This treaty is crucial in terms of ensuring predictability and mutual trust in Europe and on a larger scale," the diplomat was quoted as saying by the official Sputnik news agency.
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