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US mulls withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty, lawmaker says

Russia ratified the multilateral Treaty on Open Skies on May 26, 2001

WASHINGTON, October 8. /TASS/. The US administration is looking into the possibility of withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel said on Monday.

"I am deeply concerned by reports that the Trump Administration is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty and strongly urge you against such a reckless action," the US lawmaker said in a letter to White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.

"This treaty has provided important military transparency for its 34 signatory countries since it entered into force in 2002. American withdrawal would only benefit Russia and be harmful to our allies’ and partners’ national security interests," reads the letter, whose text was released by Engel’s office. "The Open Skies Treaty allows the United States and our allies and partners in Europe to monitor Russian military deployments. Observation flights under the Treaty have generated additional information regarding Russian military action in Ukraine."

Risks for the alliance

In the US congressman’s opinion, the withdrawal from the treaty will split the trans-Atlantic union and undermine the trust in the United States as a reliable partner in ensuring European security.

"If the Administration is indeed considering a change of status on the Treaty, it must be part of a transparent process that includes a thorough interagency review and consultation with Congress, and that provides other signatories a clear understanding of your intentions," Engel said. "To my knowledge, the Administration has not held significant consultations with our allies and partners on this matter. Such consultations are a prerequisite to successfully navigate any major policy shift with the Treaty."

The press offices of the White House and the Department of State did not comment on the letter’s contents. However, a high-ranking US government source did not directly reject the information, citing the policy of not commenting issues which are now under discussion.

Russia is not a justification

According to Engel, the Congress is aware of the US administration’s concerns regarding Russia’s implementation of the treaty.

"I support the Administration’s efforts to ensure full applicability of the Treaty to Kaliningrad and to the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and I support the restrictions put in place on Russian flights over the United States in response," he said. "But it is clear that these implementation concerns do not rise to the level of material breach of the Treaty, an excuse that is being peddled as the potential reason for withdrawal."

In his opinion, relations with Russia have become "more acrimonious and complicated" in the last decade.

"Dialogue and interaction with Russia is important during this time of heightened tension and increased potential for miscalculation," the US lawmaker said.

He added that the Open Skies Treaty continues to serve the national security interests of the United States.

About the treaty

The Treaty on Open Skies was signed in March 1992 in Helsinki by 24 member nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The main purposes of the open skies regime are to develop transparency, render assistance in monitoring compliance with the existing or future arms control agreements, broaden possibilities for preventing crises and managing crisis situations. The treaty establishes a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants. Now, the treaty has more than 30 signatory states. Russia ratified the Treaty on Open Skies on May 26, 2001.

For the past several years, Washington has been accusing Moscow of implementing the treaty in a selective manner and of violating some of its provisions. Russia has also put forward some objections regarding the way the United States has been implementing the agreement. In 2017, Washington imposed certain restrictions on Russian observation flights above its territory; Moscow came up with a mirror-like response some time later.