Ten European Union countries on Friday expressed regret at U.S. plans to withdraw from an international treaty allowing observation flights over more than 30 countries and vowed to uphold the pact, as NATO envoys met to discuss developments.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that Russian violations make it untenable for the United States to stay in the Open Skies Treaty. Washington has signaled that it will pull out in six months, although Trump hinted that he might reconsider the decision.
The treaty came into force in 2002. It was meant to promote trust between the U.S. and Russia by allowing signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other's territories to collect information about military forces and activities.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden said the pact is a crucial element of the confidence-building framework that was created over the past decades in order to improve transparency and security across the Euro-Atlantic area.
We will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has a clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and cooperative security. We reaffirm that this treaty remains functioning and useful, the 10 said, even though they share U.S. concerns about Russia's respect of the pact.
They called on Russia to lift flight restrictions, notably over its Kaliningrad region, which lies between NATO allies Lithuania and Poland. Of the 10 countries, Finland and Sweden are not NATO members.
Already in 2018, NATO leaders expressed concern about Russia's ongoing selective implementation of the treaty and other conventional arms control pacts. European nations have conducted most of the flights, which often take place over Russia and Belarus.
Earlier, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas acknowledged that Russia was not respecting the treaty, but from our point of view, this does not justify a withdrawal. He said his counterparts in Britain, France, and Poland have repeatedly made this clear to Washington, and that Germany will work intensively in this time with our like-minded partners for the U.S. to reconsider its decision.
Last year, Trump pulled the U.S. - by far the biggest and most influential of the 30 NATO member countries - out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty that it agreed in 1987 with the Soviet Union, blaming Moscow for developing a missile that does not comply with it.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko has criticised the latest U.S. move.
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.
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