US lawmakers warn Trump against withdrawing from Open Skies treaty amid coronavirus

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A group of top US Democrats warned President Donald Trump’s administration against withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty in the midst of the coronavirus global pandemic.

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allows the pact's 34 signatories, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed surveillance flights over each other's territories with the intention of providing transparency about military activities to avoid miscalculations that could lead to war.

Reports emerged last week that the White House may be moving “soon” on withdrawing from treaty.

“We are deeply troubled by the Trump administration’s sustained push to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty and we reject the administration’s arguments for pursuing withdrawal,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack Reed and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez said in a statement on April 8.

They added that withdrawing from the treaty “in the midst of a global health crisis is not only shortsighted, but also unconscionable.”

“We urge the Administration to reverse course on this reckless policy decision rather than ramming it through while our country and the entire world grapples with an unprecedented crisis,” the Democrats said.

An aide in the White House told Washington-based news website The Hill that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed two weeks ago to a withdrawal despite two planned National Security Council (NSC) meetings on the issue being canceled in February and March.

“Their decision to withdraw prompted strong objection from the UK, France, Germany and Poland,” the aide saidAn aide in the Senate said that French officials reiterated this week that they object to any decision to withdraw from the treaty. They haven’t, however, heard from Germany, UK or Poland, but they have already gone on record against a US withdrawal from Open Skies.

Meanwhile, a State Department official said the department doesn’t “comment on rumor,” and added: “We continue to implement the treaty, although flights are currently suspended due to COVID-19. Our review process continues.”

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