Trusted NATO ally Germany set to abide by Open Skies Treaty even after US pullout, calls on others to make it stay

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While asking other nations to persuade the US against leaving the Open Skies Treaty, Berlin said it will stick to the trust-building pact, highlighting limits on how far NATO allies are willing to follow Washington’s every whim.

US President Donald Trump made some headline-grabbing remarks on Thursday, officially confirming his government’s intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty (OST), a 2002 agreement that allows for mutual surveillance flights over the territories of 35 participating nations.

The move was not well received on the other side of the Atlantic on Friday, with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer saying she “regretted” the news.

All parties must do everything necessary to preserve this important treaty and yet prevent the United States from leaving.

Germany will “continue to adhere to the treaty,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said, adding that Berlin’s words will be matched by their deeds. Germany’s armed forces have already invested in acquiring a new, Open Skies-compatible aircraft, which will be “an important contribution” towards keeping the pact afloat.

While explaining the decision to pull out, Trump unsurprisingly pointed a finger at Russia, claiming it “didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out.” The demarche, he believes, will see Moscow “come back and want to make a [new] deal.”

Previously, White House officials claimed Russia was restricting flights over specific areas, including the Northern Caucasus and Moscow.

Russia, in turn, rejected the American claims outright. Flight restrictions were either a tit-for-tat response to similar limits imposed by US allies, or were set out by the treaty itself, the Foreign Ministry said.

The US withdrawal will deal a blow to “a rather fragile balance of interests of its parties,” it cautioned. Consequently, not only will the OST suffer, but also European security as a whole, the ministry added.

Still, Moscow doesn’t believe European members of the treaty will follow the US in pulling out, because, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once put it, they understand it has “value as an instrument [to secure] trust, predictability, and transparency.”

Also on Trump says US will withdraw from Open Skies Treaty, blames Russia

Germany’s assurance that it will continue to abide by the OST seems to reinforce that perception. Though carefully phrased, the defense minister’s intervention might also hint at Transatlantic bonds between Washington and its NATO allies in Europe eroding due to the US’ conduct. 

Thursday’s announcement spells the latest effort by President Trump’s administration to ditch a major arms control treaty. Last year, the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) it signed with the USSR back in 1987, again citing Russia’s non-compliance – something Moscow vehemently denied.

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