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Reports: Trump to end Open-Skies nuclear-focused treaty with Russia on Friday

President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin during the G20 Japan Summit Friday, June 28, 2019, in Osaka, Japan. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
May 21, 2020

President Donald Trump is planning to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, according to senior administration officials who spoke with The New York Times.

Trump will reportedly notify Russia on Friday of his decision. The treaty allows for mutual surveillance flights of the participating nations, allowing treaty participants to verify that other participating countries are not involved in concerning military movements and actions, including nuclear weapons developments.

The Washington Post reported similar indications that the Trump administration is seeking the withdrawal from the treaty on Thursday. A Thursday meeting between Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov and a senior State Department official in charge of arms control, Christopher Ford is expected to discuss the treaty decision.

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 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.

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“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.”

According to The New York Times, U.S. defense officials have also raised concerns that Russian surveillance flights are being used to map out infrastructure to find vulnerabilities for cyberattacks, beyond the intended purpose of the agreement in monitoring for military actions.

Trump has been eyeing a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement for some time. The Wall Street Journal reported in October he had signed a document indicating his intent to withdraw from the deal, which was negotiated in 1992 and ratified in 2002. Trump has also said he would not renew the treaty unless China joined.

Trump has already left the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. Citing similar issues of noncompliance by Russia, the Trump administration also let the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) expire last year. Trump is also reportedly planning to withdraw from the only other remaining nuclear treaty with Russia, the New START agreement.

Withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty could upset NATO allies who are still participating in the agreement. While they may remain in the agreement, a U.S. exit from the deal would likely result in a similar response by Russia, leaving NATO countries without a tool to monitor Russian troop movements near their borders.