By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - President Donald Trump is on the cusp of withdrawing the US from a nearly two-decades old pact meant to reduce the likelihood Washington and Moscow enter a military showdown, multiple reports alleged Thursday.
The Open Skies Treaty allows nations to fly above each other's territory on military reconnaissance flights as a measure to help bolster confidence neither country is imminently preparing for war. About 35 nations are party to the treaty, including the US, Russia, Turkey, many European nations and Canada.
It is part of wider arms control efforts meant to decrease the potential for war, and could signal Trump's likelihood of exiting the New START Treaty with Russia, which limits the nations' deployed nuclear arsenals, when it expires later this year.
The US president will inform Russia on Friday of his decision to leave the Open Skies Treaty, according to multiple reports that cited anonymous sources. Once that is done the US will formally withdraw six months later.
Asked about the reports, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said he had nothing to announce, maintaining the US remains "fully committed to agreements that advance US, ally and partner security."
But he said Russia "flagrantly and continuously violates its obligations under Open Skies and implements the treaty in ways that contribute to military threats against the United States, our allies and partners."
"We have been clear on these concerns for years," he told reporters.
The US has repeatedly said Russia is in violation of the treaty since 2017, citing in particular Russia's decision to limit flight distances to 311 miles (500 kilometers) above a Russian exclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, denying flights near the Georgian-Russian border, and rejecting a previously-approved flight over a military exercise in 2019.
Hoffman said Russia's decision to limit flight distances over Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave in Europe, "reduces transparency over a highly militarized area."