The House Foreign Affairs Committee chair has sent a letter to the White House expressing concern over “reports” that President Donald Trump wants to abandon the Open Skies Treaty. Yet the only such report is his own.
Congressman Eliot Engel (D-New York) denounced on Monday “potential plans” to withdraw from the treaty, saying it would be “a blow to United States national security interests, endangering Ukraine and other key European allies.”
American withdrawal would only benefit Russia and be harmful to our allies’ and partners’ national security interests.
Engel’s letter to White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has raised alarms among the usual suspects, who are taking it as yet another proof of Trump being an agent of the Kremlin, or something.
What on Earth? Trump is considering abruptly withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty, “which would only benefit Russia” and threaten our strategic alliances. It’s as if he’s trying to tick off as many items as possible on Putin’s wishlist as the heat closes in. [v @juliadavisnews] pic.twitter.com/xpNIFGb8Tw
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) October 7, 2019
“Please tell me this can’t be true,” tweeted former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, among those alarmed by the letter.
However, Engel does not actually cite any reports or sources for his claim. What he does say is that Congress is “aware of some treaty implementation concerns regarding Russia” and supports “the restrictions put in place on Russian flights over the United States,” supposedly in response to disputes over the Kaliningrad region and the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – but says these do not amount to a material breach of the treaty, and are no grounds for abandoning it.
“Dialogue and interaction with Russia is important during this time of heightened tension and increased potential for miscalculation,” Engel added, even as he denounced Russia for “aggression against Ukraine.” He is one of the committee chairs currently engaged in a probe trying to impeach Trump, although there has been no formal House resolution authorizing it.
The treaty provides for regular surveillance flights over the territory of signatory countries, including the presence of the host country’s representatives on board the planes.
Trump’s critics can’t seem to decide whether to love or to hate the treaty that went into effect in 2002, and was a product of Cold War diplomacy. Back in August, a former Pentagon official and foreign policy aide to Joe Biden raised an alarm over a Russian plane “surveilling critical infrastructure” over Chicago, and insisted that the flight had nothing to do with Open Skies.
He refused to acknowledge his mistake even after conclusive evidence emerged that the TU-154 was merely in transit to Hawaii for a scheduled treaty flight.
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