By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States announced its intention to withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies treaty that permits unarmed aerial surveillance flights over participating countries, saying Russia has repeatedly violated the pact’s terms.
Senior administration officials said the pullout will formally take place in six months, based on the treaty’s withdrawal terms.
It was the latest move by President Donald Trump’s administration to remove the United States from a major global treaty, following withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia last year.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to a small group of reporters, said the decision came after a six-month review that found multiple instances of Russian refusal to comply with the treaty.
“During the course of this review it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America’s interests to remain a party to the Open Skies treaty,” said one of the official, saying Russia violates and implements the treaty in ways that can contribute to military threats against the United States and allies.
At the same time, the officials said U.S. officials had begun talks in recent days with Russian officials about a new round of nuclear arms negotiations.
“The goal is to get a robust set of teams together to begin crafting the next generation of nuclear arms control measures. The United States is committed to arms control. We are committed to European security. And we are committed to a future that puts meaningful constraints on nuclear weapons,” said one official.
“It will be incumbent on Russia to be comply with future arrangements. We go into this with eyes wide open,” the official said.
The Open Skies treaty, initially proposed by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, was signed in 1992 and took effect in 2002.
The 35 state parties to the Open Skies Treaty are: Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark (including Greenland), Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)