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President Trump will be pulling the United States out of the Open Skies Treaty, an agreement between more than 30 countries that allow for those involved to fly in each other’s air spaces, a senior administration official confirmed to Fox News.
The New York Times first reported that Trump was planning to withdraw from the agreement, worrying NATO member nations who are concerned that once the U.S. is out, Russia will block their flights, which provide valuable surveillance of their own borders.
U.S. officials have warned that Russia had been violating the treaty already by not allowing flights over areas where military exercises were taking place or sites where Russia had nuclear weapons deployed. Each nation in the treaty agrees to make all its territory available for surveillance flights
The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence have also claimed that Russia was taking advantage of the accord by flying over the U.S. to scout and document infrastructure that could be potential cyberattack targets, the Times reported. U.S. officials also told the newspaper that Trump was upset when a Russian plane flew over his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., in 2017.
The administration has also said that imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from U.S. or commercial satellites.
Democrats have expressed concern that pulling out of the treaty could harm relationships with European allies who rely on it to keep tabs on Russian activities.
“The administration’s effort to make a major change to our national security policy in the midst of a global health crisis is not only shortsighted, but also unconscionable,” wrote Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
“This effort appears intended to limit appropriate congressional consultation on, and scrutiny of, the decision,” they wrote.
Trump has said in the past that he would only remain in the treaty if China joined, which has not happened.
Open Skies was first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, but the Soviet Union refused. It was brought up again by President George H.W. Bush and negotiations began in 1992 following the fall of the Soviet Union. It went into force in 2002 and now has 35 signatories.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.