President Trump plans on pulling the United States out of the Open Skies Treaty, an agreement among more than 30 countries that allows for those involved to fly in each other’s air spaces, administration officials said.
On Thursday evening, the Pentagon issued a statement saying: “Tomorrow the United States will formally submit its notification of its decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. After careful consideration, including input from Allies and key partners, it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in the United States’ best interest to remain a party to this Treaty when Russia does not uphold its commitments. U.S. obligations under the Treaty will effectively end in six months.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the move was inspired at least in part by Russian violations of the accord, and noted that while U.S. withdrawal will be effective as of six months from Friday, Trump could change his mind about withdrawing if Russia fully complies with the agreement.
"While the United States along with our Allies and partners that are States Parties to the Treaty have lived up to our commitments and obligations under the Treaty, Russia has flagrantly and continuously violated the Treaty in various ways for years," Pompeo said in a statement. "This is not a story exclusive to just the Treaty on Open Skies, unfortunately, for Russia has been a serial violator of many of its arms control obligations and commitments."
According to the New York Times, NATO member nations are concerned that once the U.S. is out, Russia will block their flights, which provide valuable surveillance of their own borders. Pompeo said that even now "Russia has consistently acted as if it were free to turn its obligations off and on at will, unlawfully denying or restricting Open Skies observation flights whenever it desires."
For example, Pompeo stated that Russia "unjustifiably" blocked access to a joint U.S.-Canada observation flight over a Russian military exercise.
U.S. officials have warned that Russia had been violating the treaty already by not allowing flights over areas where military exercises were taking place or sites where Russia had nuclear weapons deployed. Each nation in the treaty agrees to make all its territory available for surveillance flights
The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence have also claimed that Russia was taking advantage of the accord by flying over the U.S. to scout and document infrastructure that could be potential cyberattack targets, the Times reported.
Pompeo acknowledged this, claiming that Russia has also focused on European infrastructure.
"Rather than using the Open Skies Treaty as a mechanism for improving trust and confidence through military transparency, Russia has, therefore, weaponized the Treaty by making it into a tool of intimidation and threat," he said.
The administration has also said that imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from U.S. or commercial satellites.
Democrats have expressed concern that pulling out of the treaty could harm relationships with European allies who rely on it to keep tabs on Russian activities.
“The administration’s effort to make a major change to our national security policy in the midst of a global health crisis is not only shortsighted, but also unconscionable,” wrote Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
“This effort appears intended to limit appropriate congressional consultation on, and scrutiny of, the decision,” they wrote.
Trump has said in the past that he would only remain in the treaty if China joined, which has not happened.
Open Skies was first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, but the Soviet Union refused. It was brought up again by President George H.W. Bush and negotiations began in 1992 following the fall of the Soviet Union. It went into force in 2002 and now has 35 signatories.
Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.