Source: Global Security Newswire, 18 April 2014
Washington's national security leaders reportedly want to bar a new, high-tech Russian plane from conducting treaty-verification flights over US nuclear arms.
Under the Open Skies Treaty, which the United States and Russia have both ratified, 34 signatory nations agree to allow overflights of their territory by other member states. Planes outfitted with special sensors and cameras gather information on a range of military resources, including troop movements, combat vehicles and nuclear-arms locations.
Russia for years has used the treaty to keep tabs on the US atomic arsenal, as is permitted under bilateral arms-control accords. However, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and intelligence branches are now urging the White House to deny a Russian plane authorization to conduct overflights, the Daily Beast reported on Friday.
The recommendation reportedly is due to concerns that Russia's recently upgraded sensor capabilities would give Moscow too many explicit details about US nuclear weapons.
The State Department has the final say on certifying foreign aircraft to conduct overflights and is understood to support granting authorization to the Russian spy plane.
An unidentified US official said the concerns about the Russian aircraft are not tied to the recent uptick in tensions with Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.
"This would have been an issue even if there was no Ukraine crisis," the official said.
The aircraft is equipped with "sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar, and infrared equipment," according to a bipartisan letter written by four members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and published earlier this week by the Weekly Standard,
Senior interagency officials discussed the matter on Wednesday but were unable to come to a consensus, US sources told the news site. The issue will now come before President Obama, sources said.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden would not discuss the Wednesday meeting.
"Without prejudging the outcome of that review, I would note that the Open Skies Treaty enhances confidence and transparency by allowing the 34 countries that are party to it to obtain information on the military forces and activities of other treaty partners," Hayden told the Daily Beast. "It contributes to European security by providing images and information on Russian forces, and by permitting observation flights to verify compliance with arms control agreements."