Trump to withdraw from 'open skies' arms control treaty

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – US President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw from another major arms control accord, according to senior administration officials, and will inform Russia on Friday (May 22) that the United States is pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, negotiated three decades ago to allow nations to fly over each other’s territory with elaborate sensor equipment to assure that they are not preparing for military action.

Mr Trump’s decision will be viewed as more evidence that he also may be poised to exit the one major arms treaty remaining with Russia: New Start, which limits the US and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each. It expires weeks after the next presidential inauguration.

US officials have long complained that Moscow was violating the Open Skies accord by not permitting flights over a city where it was believed Russia was deploying nuclear weapons that could reach Europe, as well as forbidding flights over major Russian military exercises.

And, in classified reports, the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies have contended the Russians are also using flights over the US to map out critical infrastructure that could be hit by cyberattacks.

US officials also note that Mr Trump was angered by a Russian flight directly over his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf estate, in 2017.

But Mr Trump’s decision, rumoured for some time, is bound to further aggravate European allies, including those in Nato, who are also signatories to the treaty.

They will remain in the accord, but have warned that, with Washington’s exit, Russia will almost certainly respond by cutting off their flights, too, which the allies use to monitor troop movements on their borders – especially important to the Baltic nations.

For Mr Trump, the decision marks the third time he has renounced a major arms control treaty.

Two years ago he abandoned the Iran nuclear accord, negotiated by President Barack Obama. Last year he left the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, again saying that he would not participate in a treaty that he said Russia was violating. The Open Skies Treaty was negotiated by President George H.W. Bush and his secretary of state, Mr James Baker, in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But the idea was first presented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in the summer of 1955, and was rejected by the Soviets as an elaborate plan to spy on a weaker foe.

For more than a year, Mr Trump has said he would not renew it unless China also joined. Beijing, which has a nuclear arsenal one-fifth the size of Washington’s and Moscow’s, has rejected the idea.

It is unclear whether Mr Trump will try for a brief extension of the treaty of several months – the current wording allows only for a single, five-year extension – or abandon it altogether if China refuses to join.

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