TEHRAN (Tasnim) - The Trump administration is determined to withdraw from a 28-year-old treaty intended to reduce the risk of an accidental war between the west and Russia by allowing reconnaissance flights over each other's territory.
- World news -
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which has put off a full national security council (NSC) meeting on the Open Skies Treaty (OST), the secretary of defence, Mark Esper, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have agreed to proceed with a US exit, according to two sources familiar with administration planning, Guardian reported.
A statement of intent is expected soon, with a formal notification of withdrawal issued a few months later, possibly at the end of the fiscal year in September. The US would cease to be a party to the treaty six months after that, so if a new president were elected in November, the decision could be reversed before taking effect.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, reconnaissance flights under the treaty have been suspended until 26 April.
The US has complained about what it says are Russian infringements of the treaty, which was signed in 1992 and has been in force since 2002: limitations on flights over the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad to less than 500km and the creation of an exclusion corridor along the border of the Russian-occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia imposed the limitation over Kaliningrad after a prolonged zigzagging Polish overflight in 2014 closed down aviation for a day. Russia allowed an extended flight over Kaliningrad in February.
One of the reasons Esper has cited for US withdrawal is to save money by not replacing the two Boeing OC-135B planes the US uses for its Open Skies reconnaissance flights.
Congress appropriated $41.5m last year for the cost of replacement but the Pentagon spending request published in February contained no budget for the new planes. Esper told Congress he was awaiting a decision from the president.
Three Republican hawks in the Senate, Richard Burr, Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz, sent a letter to the administration in March calling for withdrawal, for cost and security reasons.
Supporters of the Open Skies Treaty say the US and its allies benefit from it more than Russia, with three times more overflights of Russian territory than Russia flights over US and allied territory.
Furthermore, US withdrawal would not stop Russian reconnaissance flights over US bases in Europe.
The Open Skies Treaty is the latest arms control agreement to be targeted by the Trump administration, which has walked out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said: "At a time when the need for international cooperation, couldn't be any more obvious, with respect to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it is foreign policy malpractice for the Donald J Trump administration to withdraw from a treaty that has been in effect for nearly 30 years against the wishes of the United States closest allies in Europe."