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US Exits Open Skies Treaty in Another Step Toward Destroying Global Arms Control Framework

© Sputnik / Maksim Blinov /  / Go to the mediabankA Tu-214 ON (Open Skies) reconnaissance aircraft. (File)
A Tu-214 ON (Open Skies) reconnaissance aircraft. (File) - Sputnik International
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The Trump administration announced that it will submit its notice to withdraw from the 34-state Open Skies Treaty in a likely sign that President Donald Trump will also want to scrap the United States' last remaining arms control accord with Russia.

The Open Skies Treaty, which was signed in 1992 and entered into force in 2002, establishes a mutual program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of the 34 states who are party to the agreement. The surveillance allows states to monitor each other's military activities to ensure transparency and stability.

Blame Game

During remarks to reporters outside the White House on Thursday, Trump confirmed reports that his administration will pull the United States from the Open Skies Treaty but said the agreement could later be revived or replaced with a new deal.

"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 said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement said the United States will officially withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty in six months once the administration submits a notice of its decision on Friday. Pompeo said the United States may reconsider its decision if Russia "demonstrates a return to full compliance with this confidence-building Treaty, but without such a change of course from the Kremlin, our path will lead to withdrawal in six months’ time."

Moreover, Pompeo accused Russia of using imagery, obtained during Open Skies overflights, to support its doctrine of targeting critical infrastructure in the United States and Europe with precision-guided conventional munitions.

The US Defense Department in a press release late Thursday said the United States will provide additional intelligence imagery to allies to mitigate gaps after withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty.

Trump’s Republican allies from Texas, Congressman Michael McCaul and Senator Ted Cruz, supported Trump's decision and accusations that Russia has been in violation of the Open Skies Treaty.

"More troubling, it is clear that Russia is misusing these flights to gather intelligence on critical US military and civilian infrastructure in an effort to fine tune its targeting of our country and threaten our national security," McCaul, the House Foreign Affairs Committee vice chairman, said. "For those reasons, I support the President’s decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty."

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton called Trump's decision a "great moment in arms control history."

Trump Move Slammed as Dangerous, Illegal

US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel in a statement said the Trump administration continues to show a "disdain" for Congress and a lack of respect for the legislative branch because it does not consult with lawmakers prior to making crucial decisions.

Engel said this behavior from the Trump administration is dangerous and jeopardizes US national security.

Meanwhile, two other lawmakers - US Senator Ed Markey and Congressman Jimmy Panetta, introduced the Preventing Actions Undermining Security without Endorsement (PAUSE) Act to prevent a US president from withdrawing from international treaties without congressional approval.

US Senator Patrick Leahy described Trump's decision as "short-sighted," adding that he is turning his back on everything previous administrations have worked hard to achieve.

Another colleague, US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, said by withdrawing from the treaty, Trump is taking the United States down a path that makes the country less secure and threatens an arms control framework that has helped maintain global stability for decades.

In addition, Helsinki Commission Chairman Congressman Alcee Hastings said in a statement on Thursday that the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty weakens transatlantic security and is ill-advised.

Former CIA official Phil Giraldi told Sputnik that the administration's decision to pull out of a confidence building measure is "stupid" and will serve no benefit to the United States.

"It is a confidence building measure that was/is good for all parties involved and there is absolutely no benefit to the United States in pulling out of it," Giraldi said.

Meanwhile, former CIA Director Michael Hayden took to Twitter and went so far as to call Trump's decision "insane."

Last Treaty at Risk

Some experts and officials saw the decision as more evidence that the US administration is unlikely to renew the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which expires in February 2021.

The New START is the last remaining arms control treaty in force between Russia and the United States after the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty last year. New START stipulates the reduction of the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by one-half and limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550.

Russia has repeatedly invited the United States to extend the New START for another five years without preconditions. However, the Trump administration has signaled that it favors negotiating an amended arms control regime that would also include China and possibly the United Kingdom and France.

Former State Department official Jim Jatras told Sputnik the Open Skies decision sends a clear sign Trump intends to let the New START expire.

"It’s a very broad signal that New START will not be renewed... [and] another step in systematically demolishing the framework of arms control globally, and especially between the US and Russia," Jatras, a former adviser to the Senate Republican Leadership, said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said "like-minded partners" would try to convince Washington to reconsider leaving the treaty, as the US withdrawal would seriously reduce the area of its application, and the general regime of this treaty would weaken.

Despite Trump's belligerent moves, some within the administration have suggested it is not a foregone conclusion that the New START deal is dead. White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told Fox News Thursday evening that the administration would not pull out of the last remaining arms control agreement between the US and Russia and is ready to negotiate in "good faith" with Moscow.

US Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea during a virtual conference at the Hudson Institute on Thursday said that he is working with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on plans to meet as soon as possible to discuss arms control.

Russia Says US Move Undermines Security

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Sputnik on Thursday that US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty will mean undermining a fundamental agreement that seriously strengthened confidence and security in Europe.

Earlier, a Russian Foreign Ministry arms control official told Sputnik that Moscow has not yet received an official notification from Washington about its decision to leave the Open Skies Treaty, but a withdrawal would be regrettable if it happens.

Leonid Slutsky, the head of the Russian lower house international affairs committee, on Thursday told reporters that Russia will respond to protect its national security against the destructive move by the Trump administration.

"US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty is a destructive decision that could jeopardize the military security system on the European continent. This will be yet another step by the US administration to destroy key arms control agreements following the collapse of the INF Treaty," the lawmaker said.
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