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Trump plans to exit arms control treaty with Russia

Laura King and Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The United States intends to withdraw from a treaty with Russia that allows unarmed surveillance flights over each other's territories, President Donald Trump said Thursday, a move that marks the latest U.S. pullback from a major international arms pact and could further strain ties with Moscow and European allies.

But the president suggested that a full U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty -- which would take place six months from now -- could be averted if Russia stopped violating the agreement, as the administration accuses it of doing.

"Russia didn't adhere to the treaty, and so until they adhere to the treaty, we will pull out," Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Michigan. "There's a very good chance we'll make a new agreement, or do something to put that agreement back together."

Even so, the withdrawal was already being set in motion, potentially signaling an end to overflight arrangements set up decades ago to promote trust and avert conflict.

The pact has 34 signatories, including major NATO allies. The administration has briefed some about the president's plan, officials said.

Last year, Trump removed the United States from another major international arms-control agreement with Russia, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which dates back to 1987.

 

Thursday's announcement also raised fresh doubts about the future of the New START Treaty, the only remaining American and Russian nuclear arms-control pact, which expires early next year.

The Trump administration has long signaled distaste for the Open Skies Treaty, a product of Cold War-era fears that suspected military buildups could become a flashpoint for a nuclear conflagration. The agreement was negotiated in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, and took effect in 2002.

A review by the Trump administration this spring concluded that the treaty was no longer of sufficient benefit to justify the costs. In addition to alleging multiple Russian violations, the administration said it was not worth the expense to replace aging aircraft used for surveillance flights, saying those results could be obtained at lower cost by U.S. or commercial satellites.

U.S. officials complain that Russia doesn't allow overflights of sensitive areas, including Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania; and the southern border of the ex-Soviet republic Georgia.

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