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European NATO allies are concerned about the U.S. plan to leave open skies

FILE PHOTO: During the move to the new building in Brussels, Belgium, on April 19, 2018, banners with the NATO logo will be placed at the entrance to the new NATO headquarters. REUTERS / Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) ̵

1; European NATO members told the United States on Friday that they were concerned about their plan to withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies agreement that would allow unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, an official of the defense alliance said.

Senior officials from the government of President Donald Trump, who claimed that Russia had repeatedly violated the terms of the treaty, said Thursday that Washington would officially withdraw from open skies in six months.

The US move deepens doubts as to whether Washington will attempt to extend the new 2010 START agreement, which sets the final remaining limits on the use of strategic nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia at no more than 1,550 each. The agreement expires in February.

Envoys to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which met in response to the US announcement, agreed “on the importance of arms control and the need to bring Russia back to compliance,” said the NATO official.

“A number of allies were concerned that the United States might leave the treaty,” added the official.

Some allies fear that a U.S. exit from open skies that will stop US Russian overflights could lead to Moscow’s withdrawal. This would end the overflights of Russia by the remaining members and weaken European security at a time when Russian-backed separatists hold parts of Ukraine and Georgia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia had for years “imposed non-contractual flight restrictions, including restrictions on Kaliningrad flights, and flights in Russia near the Georgia border.”

“Russia’s ongoing selective implementation has undermined the Open Skies Treaty,” he said in a statement after the ambassadorial meeting of the Brussels-based alliance.

He noted that Washington would reconsider its withdrawal if Russia adhered to the terms of the treaty, and said NATO allies would work with Moscow to return to compliance soon.

Reporting by John Chalmers; Edited by Hugh Lawson

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