BRUSSELS (Dispatches) -- Ten European Union countries on Friday expressed regret at U.S. plans to withdraw from an international treaty allowing observation flights over more than 30 countries and vowed to uphold the pact, as NATO envoys met to discuss developments.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that alleged Russian violations make it untenable for the United States to stay in the Open Skies Treaty.
The treaty came into force in 2002. It was meant to promote trust between the U.S. and Russia by allowing signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden said the pact "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.”
"We will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has a clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and cooperative security. We reaffirm that this treaty remains functioning and useful,” the 10 said, even though they share U.S. concerns about Russia’s respect of the pact.
Earlier, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his counterparts in Britain, France, and Poland have repeatedly made this clear to Washington, and that Germany "will work intensively in this time with our like-minded partners for the U.S. to reconsider its decision.”
Last year, Trump pulled the U.S. — by far the biggest and most influential of the 30 NATO member countries — out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty that it agreed in 1987 with the Soviet Union, blaming Moscow for developing a missile that does not comply with it.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko criticized the latest U.S. move.
"The withdrawal of the U.S. from this treaty will come as yet another blow to the system of military security in Europe, which is already weakened by the previous moves by the administration,” Grushko told state news agency Tass.
Russia will continue to observe an international treaty that allows spy planes access to other countries’ air space even if the U.S. pulls out, he added.
China, which is not a party to the treaty, expressed "deep regret” over the U.S. move, calling it a "display of the United States’ entrenched Cold War mentality”.
The withdrawal "will have a negative impact on the international arms control and disarmament process,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing in Beijing today.
The treaty has been signed by countries across Europe, the former Soviet Union and the United States and Canada.