BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO ambassadors are meeting Friday to weigh U.S. plans to withdraw from an international treaty allowing short-notice observation flights over more than 30 countries, amid concerns that Russia is violating the pact.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that Russian violations make it untenable 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 United States and Russia by allowing signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities.
Already in 2018, NATO leaders expressed concern about “Russia’s ongoing selective implementation” of the treaty and other conventional arms control pacts. “In particular, we are concerned that Russia has restricted flights over certain areas,” a NATO official said Friday.
European nations have conducted most of the flights — which often take place over Russia and Belarus — and some of them are urging the United States to stay in it.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he regrets the U.S. decision to abandon a treaty that “contributes to security and peace in practically the entire northern hemisphere,” and he also urged Russia to start respecting it again.
“We see that there were indeed difficulties in the implementation of the treaty on Russia’s side in recent years,” Maas said in a statement. “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 United States — 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 criticized 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.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.