Trump administration to announce plans to exit ‘Open Skies’ treaty

Open Skies treaty
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The Trump administration is expected to announce plans to exit the “Open Skies” treaty, a decision being condemned by Democrats in Congress.

A US official told CNN that the US President Donald Trump’s administration is preparing to announce that it will be withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty, signed in 1992 and implemented in 2002 that allows its 34 member states to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over one another’s territories.

Leaving the treaty could impact the US military’s ability to conduct aerial surveillance of Russia and other member countries and according to the US Defense Thread Reduction Agency, the treaty helps its members verify arms control agreements.

The State Department said that the treaty “is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information through aerial imaging on military forces and activities of concern to them.”

If this pushes through, it would be latest major international treaty the administration has exited. The US formally left the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia in August, ending the arms control pact that has limited the development of ground-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

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According to analysts, the latest initiatives by the Trump administration could lead to a new arms race with Russia as the US military is scheduled to test a new non-nuclear mobile-launched cruise missile developed specifically to challenge Russia in Europe.

However, a State Department spokesperson said that they are aware of the Democrats’ letters regarding the treaty and added: “We do not comment on Congressional correspondence. We continue to implement the treaty and are in full compliance with our obligations under this Treaty, unlike Russia.”

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York and Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state wrote: “Pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, an important multilateral arms control agreement, would be yet another gift from the Trump Administration to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

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