NATO allies, EU regret US withdrawal from Open Skies treaty

Foreign ministers of NATO members on Friday said they regret Washington’s decision to withdraw from a treaty that allows nations to conduct unarmed observation flights over one another's territory. The same regret expressed the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

"We regret the announcement by the US Government of its intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, although we share their concerns about implementation of the Treaty clauses by Russia," the foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden said in a joint statement.

"The Open Skies Treaty is a crucial element of the confidence-building framework that was created over the past decades in order to improve transparency and security across the Euro-Atlantic area," the statement also noted. The ministers declared that their countries will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which will remain functioning and useful.

"Regarding issues on Treaty implementation, we will continue to engage Russia as was previously decided among NATO Allies and other European partners to address outstanding issues such as the undue restrictions to flights over Kaliningrad. We continue to call on the Russian Federation to lift these restrictions and continue our dialogue with all parties," the ministers said.

Earlier, sources had disclosed that after a Friday meeting in Brussels, the other NATO countries said they were not prepared to give the US their unqualified support, as they often do when Washington announces new policies, dpa reported. Following the discussions, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said only that all allies believed that Russia had to meet its contractual obligations.

US officials claim that Moscow has violated the Open Skies accord by blocking surveillance flights around certain areas, including the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the border with Georgia, as well as denying flights over Russian military exercises. Russia has denied the charges, but other NATO countries said they will see if they can get Moscow to give way on some of the points where Washington says Russia is not complying.

In Brussels, the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he regrets the announcement by the US to withdraw from the treaty. "While continuing to urge Russia to return immediately to the full implementation of the Treaty, I call upon the United States to reconsider their decision," Borrell stated.

He also noted that the Treaty on Open Skies is a key element of  arms-control architecture and serves as a vital confidence and security-building measure. The treaty provides transparency and predictability and it is an important contribution to European and global security and stability. The European Union will examine the implications US decision may have for its own security, Borrell also said.



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