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Pompeo announces US withdrawal from major Open Skies US-Russia treaty for nuke surveillance

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens as US President Donald Trump speaks about Syria in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., Oct. 23, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
May 21, 2020

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates as more information becomes available.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday the U.S. will submit a notice on Friday that it is withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies in exactly six months, after complaints of Russian noncompliance with the treaty.

Pompeo announced the U.S. decision in a State Department statement Thursday afternoon. Pompeo indicated the U.S. may reverse its decision to pull out of the treaty if Russia comes back into compliance with the agreement, which allows for participating countries to carry out surveillance flights over other member nations, to monitor for military activity, including nuclear testing.

“Effective six months from tomorrow, the United States will no longer be a party to the Treaty,” Pompeo said. “We may, however, reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty.”

The treaty was signed on March 24, 1992, according to the Arms Control Association.

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Pompeo’s statement provides a formal announcement of a decision to end the treaty, hours after reports circulated that the U.S. would withdraw from the deal by Friday.

“At its core, the Treaty was designed to provide all signatories an increased level of transparency and mutual understanding and cooperation, regardless of their size,” Pompeo said. “Russia’s implementation and violation of Open Skies, however, has undermined this central confidence-building function of the Treaty – and has, in fact, fueled distrust and threats to our national security – making continued U.S. participation untenable.”

The Trump administration has raised concerns that Russia is not permitting the U.S. to carry out the surveillance flights of suspected nuclear sites provided for in the treaty. U.S. defense officials have also reportedly raised concerns that Russian surveillance flights under the treaty are going beyond the terms of the treaty, to map out infrastructure to find vulnerabilities for cyberattacks.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper raised issue with the treaty in March when he said Moscow has blocked the United States from carrying out flights over the Baltic Sea city of Kaliningrad and near Georgia, all of which are permitted under the terms of the treaty.

“We’ve also been denied access to military exercise overflights,” Esper said in a March 4 congressional hearing. “I have a lot of concerns about the treaty as it stands now.”

The latest decision on the Treaty on Open Skies also comes amid reports the U.S. is seeking a new nuclear arms agreement with Russia and China, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The new arms talks are likely made in an effort to replace another U.S.-Russian arms control agreement, the New START treaty.