Trump to withdraw from Open Skies treaty

Source: The Hill | May 21, 2020 | Morgan Chalfant and Rebecca Kheel

President Trump plans to withdraw from another major arms control agreement, the Open Skies treaty, multiple sources confirmed to The Hill on Thursday.

The Open Skies Treaty allows the pact’s 35 signatories, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation flights over each other with the intention of providing transparency about military activities to avoid miscalculations that could lead to war.

A senior administration official and a Senate aide confirmed the decision, which was first reported Thursday by The New York Times.

The treaty, which went into force in 2002, has long been in the crosshairs of defense hawks, who argue Russian violations give Moscow an unfair advantage over Washington.

Russia in the past has restricted flights over Kaliningrad and areas near its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Because of those restrictions, an April report from the State Department said “the United States continued to assess that Russia was in violation of the Treaty on Open Skies” in 2019, a determination first made in 2017.

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Last month, the same group of lawmakers released a statement warning that Trump could use the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to withdraw from the accord with little attention, saying such a move “in the midst of a global health crisis is not only shortsighted, but also unconscionable.”

“This effort appears intended to limit appropriate congressional consultation on, and scrutiny of, the decision,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in an April statement.

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The decision by Trump to withdraw from the treaty follows last year’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a decades-old Cold War arms control pact with Russia, over Moscow’s violations.

The latest move is likely to raise questions about Trump’s plans for New START, the last remaining arms control pact with Russia that is up for renewal in February.

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