- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2020

The Democratic leaders of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees are renewing their pleas to the Trump administration to stay in a key international treaty that allows U.S. intelligence flights over Russia as the White House plans a withdrawal.

President Trump has privately signed off on the decision to pull the U.S. out of the Open Skies Treaty, a 34-country pact that was designed to lower international tensions by allowing treaty members to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others’ territory to collect data on military forces and activities — despite continued efforts from Congressional Democrats to remain active.

But the administration has yet to follow through on the anticipated pull out.

“A U.S. withdrawal is likely to leave the United States at a disadvantage, because it will not end an agreement that our European partners continue to value,” wrote Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Criticism of the 1992 treaty, led by congressional Republicans, grew last year after Russia restricted U.S. surveillance flights over Kaliningrad, the strategic Russian military enclave that sits between Lithuania and Poland, and Georgia. The U.S. responded by prohibiting Russian flights over Hawaii and several Air Force bases.

The senators argued that concerns of Russia limiting flights “do not negate the important benefits the United States receives from the Open Skies Treaty, nor did they prevent the United States from conducting a full slate of Open Skies flights over Russia in 2019.”

“The Open Skies concerns of the United States and other countries are focused on specific practices of Russian implementation that do not fundamentally undermine the security benefits of the treaty,” they wrote.

Treaty supporters also argue America’s European allies could be unnerved by another U.S. repudiation of a major multilateral security pact. All but two of the European Union’s 29 member countries have joined the agreement and when the U.S. conducts intelligence flights, European allies are often brought along.

“If this administration moves forward with a precipitous unilateral withdrawal from the Treaty, the United States will be less safe and secure,” the senators warned.

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