WASHINGTON, May 22 ------ The United States said on Thursday it would withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies treaty allowing unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, the Trump administration’s latest move to pull the country out of a major global treaty. The administration said Russia had repeatedly violated the pact’s terms. Senior officials said the pullout would formally take place in six months, but President Donald Trump held out the possibility that Russia could come into compliance.
“I think we have a very good relationship with Russia. But Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty. So until they adhere, we will pull out,” Trump told reporters. His decision deepens doubts about whether Washington will seek to extend the 2010 New START accord, which imposes the last remaining limits on U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear arms to no more than 1,550 each. It expires in February.
Trump has repeatedly called for China to join the United States and Russia in talks on an arms control accord to replace New START. China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal. White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Fox News Channel later on Thursday that he did not expect the United States to leave the New START accord. NATO allies and other countries like Ukraine had pressed Washington not to leave the Open Skies Treaty, whose unarmed overflights are aimed at bolstering confidence and providing members forewarning of surprise military attacks.
In Moscow, RIA state news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying that Russia had not violated the treaty and nothing prevented the continuation of talks on technical issues that Washington calls violations. The Open Skies decision followed a six-month review in which officials found multiple instances of Russian refusal to comply with the treaty.
Last year, the administration pulled the United States out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. A senior administration said U.S. officials had begun talks in recent days with Russian officials about a new round of nuclear arms negotiations to “begin crafting the next generation of nuclear arms control measures.”