Sur­veil­lance treaty exit un­cer­tain

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hints that the White House may re­think a plan to exit the Open Skies Treaty.

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Deb Riechmann

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Thurs­day that Rus­sian vi­o­la­tions make it un­ten­able for the U.S. to stay in a treaty that per­mits 30-plus na­tions to con­duct ob­ser­va­tion flights over each other’s ter­ri­tory, but he hinted it’s pos­si­ble the U.S. will re­con­sider the de­ci­sion to with­draw.

Trump’s an­nounce­ment comes as the U.S. be­gins new nu­clear arms con­trol talks with the Krem­lin aimed at re­plac­ing an ex­pir­ing weapons treaty with a mod­ern and po­ten­tially three-way ac­cord that brings China into the fold. Se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say Trump’s will­ing­ness to leave the Open Skies Treaty is ev­i­dence of how promi­nently arms con­trol ver­i­fi­ca­tion and com­pli­ance will fea­ture in the new talks.

The Open Skies Treaty that gov­erns the un­armed over­flights was ini­tially set up to pro­mote trust and avert con­flict be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­formed other mem­bers of the treaty that the U.S. plans to pull out in six months — which is af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — be­cause Rus­sia is vi­o­lat­ing the pact. The White House also says that im­agery col­lected dur­ing the flights can be ob­tained quickly at less cost from U.S. or com­mer­cial satel­lites.

“Rus­sia didn’t ad­here to the treaty. So un­til they ad­here, we will pull out, but there’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agree­ment or do some­thing to put that agree­ment back to­gether,” Trump told re­porters at the White House be­fore leav­ing for Michi­gan.

“So I think what’s go­ing to hap­pen is we’re go­ing to pull out and they (the Rus­sians) are go­ing to come back and want to make a deal,“Trump said. He added: “I think some­thing very pos­i­tive will work.”

The U.S. an­nounce­ment that it plans to leave the treaty is ex­pected to up­set some mem­bers of Congress and Euro­pean al­lies, which ben­e­fit from the im­agery col­lected by Open Skies flights con­ducted by the U.S.

“End­ing such agree­ments with­out any­thing to re­place them could re­sult in desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties such as a dan­ger­ous new arms race lead­ing to pos­si­ble mis­cal­cu­la­tions,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Du­jar­ric.

In Moscow, Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Alexan­der Grushko crit­i­cized the U.S. de­ci­sion.

“Our po­si­tion is ab­so­lutely clear and is in­vari­able: The with­drawal of the U.S. from this treaty will come as yet an­other blow to the sys­tem of mil­i­tary se­cu­rity in Europe, which is al­ready weak­ened by the pre­vi­ous moves by the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Grushko told state news agency Tass.

Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Robert O’Brien said the pres­i­dent has made clear that the United States will not re­main a party to in­ter­na­tional agree­ments be­ing vi­o­lated by the other par­ties and that are no longer in Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests. He noted that Rus­sian vi­o­la­tions are also what prompted Trump last year to pull out of a 1987 nu­clear arms treaty with Rus­sia.

That treaty, signed by Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev, banned pro­duc­tion, test­ing and de­ploy­ment of in­ter­me­di­at­erange land-based cruise and bal­lis­tic mis­siles with a range of 310 to 3,410 miles.

New START Treaty, which ex­pires in Fe­bru­ary shortly af­ter the next pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion, now is the only re­main­ing treaty con­strain­ing the U.S. and Rus­sian nu­clear ar­se­nals. It im­poses lim­its on the num­ber of U.S. and Rus­sian long-range nu­clear war­heads and launch­ers. Rus­sia has of­fered to ex­tend the treaty, but Trump is hold­ing out in hopes of ne­go­ti­at­ing a three-way agree­ment with Rus­sia and China.

“It is our ex­pec­ta­tion that Rus­sia will help us to bring China to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble,” Mar­shall Billingsle­a, spe­cial pres­i­den­tial en­voy for arms con­trol, said Thurs­day dur­ing an on­line event hosted by the Hud­son In­sti­tute think tank. He said he be­gan talks a few days ago with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part and that ne­go­ti­a­tions will take place, as soon as pos­si­ble given the COVID-19 pan­demic, in a yet-to-be an­nounced venue in Europe.

SUSAN WALSH/AP 2019

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin do not see eye to eye on the Open Skies Treaty.

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