US to pull out of ‘Open Skies’ arms control accord

US President Donald Trump is seen in this file picture. — Courtesy photo

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump has decided to pull out of a major accord after accusing Russia of repeatedly violating it.

The Open Skies Treaty, which came into force in 2002, permits unarmed aerial surveillance flights over 35 participating countries, including Russia and the US.

Washington informed the other 33 parties to the treaty of its intention to deliver a formal six-month notice of withdrawal on Friday, accusing Russia of violations.

“I think we have a very good relationship with Russia, but Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, and so until they adhere to the treaty, we will pull out,” Donald Trump said. He added: “There’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together.”

Later on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement confirming that the US will withdraw from the treaty effective six months from tomorrow.

"A cornerstone of President Trump's National Security Strategy is to protect the American people, the American way of life, and American security interests," Pompeo said.

"After careful consideration, including input from Allies and key partners, it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America's interest to remain a party to the Treaty on Open Skies."

Reacting to the US announcement, Russia's Foreign Ministry insisted that it had not violated the treaty and that a US withdrawal would be "very regrettable."

It added that the Trump administration was working to "derail all agreements on arms control".

"We reject any attempts to justify a way out of this fundamental agreement," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko was quoted as saying.

"Nothing prevents continuing the discussions over the technical issues, which the US is misrepresenting as violations by Russia," Grushko added.

He said that any withdrawal would affect the interests of all of the treaty's participants, who are also members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. — Agencies