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European NATO allies express concern over US plan to leave Open Skies

PHOTO PHOTO: Banners with the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of the new NATO headquarters during the relocation to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium, April 1

9, 2018. REITERS / Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European members of NATO told the United States on Friday that they were not worried about its plan to withdraw from the 35-year-old open skies treaty, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member states. defense.

Senior officials in President Donald Trump’s administration, who say Russia has repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement, said Thursday that Washington would officially withdraw from the Open Skies in six months.

The move by the United States deepens doubts about whether Washington will seek to extend the new START agreement of 2010, which imposes the last remaining restrictions on the deployment of US strategic nuclear weapons to no more than 1,550 each. The agreement expires in February.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) envoys, who met in response to the US statement, agreed “on the importance of arms control and the need to bring Russia back into compliance,” the NATO official said.

“A number of allies have expressed concern that the United States may leave the treaty,” the official added.

Some allies are worried that the US exit from Open Skies, which will stop Russian US overflights, could prompt Moscow to withdraw. This will end Russia’s overflights by other members, weakening European security at a time when Russian-backed separatists are holding parts of Ukraine and Georgia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that for many years Russia had “imposed restrictions on flights contrary to the treaty, including restrictions on flights over Kaliningrad and restrictions on flights to Russia near its border with Georgia”.

“Russia’s continued electoral performance is undermining the Open Skies Treaty,” he said in a statement after a meeting of ambassadors to the Brussels-based union.

He noted that Washington would reconsider its withdrawal if Russia complied with the terms of the agreement, and said NATO allies were committed to Moscow’s efforts to return to compliance early.

Report by John Chalmers; Edited by Hugh Lawson

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