'Another Trump Gift to Putin': Former Diplomats Horrified by Administration's Reported Plans to Ditch Open Skies Treaty With Russia

Former diplomats have reacted with horror to reports that Donald Trump's administration is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty, which allows signatory nations to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other's territory.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien on Monday expressing his concern at the administration's "reported plans" to withdraw from the treaty.

Engel did not specify which reports he was referring to, but warned that "withdrawal would only benefit Russia and be harmful to our allies' and partners' national security interests."

The treaty allows the treaty's 34 party states—including the U.S., Russia and most of Europe including Ukraine—to conduct overflights of each other's territory and monitor military activity. It came into effect in 2002.

Engel noted that the agreement "allows the United States and our allies and partners in Europe to monitor Russian military deployments. Observation flights under the Treaty have generated additional information regarding Russian military action in Ukraine and provided a check on further Russian aggression there."

The letter prompted grave concerns on social media, with foreign policy watchers denouncing the Trump administration for reportedly considering the move, especially given the president's suspect relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ben Rhodes, who formerly served as deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted, "Sometimes the only way to explain/predict Trump's foreign policy is to think 'what would Putin want the US to do?'"

Jon Wolfsthal, who worked as Obama's senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council, also linked the reported withdrawal to Putin. "Russia hates Open Skies because it requires them to let Ukraine fly over their country," he explained. "This is another Trump gift to Putin."

Meanwhile, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul expressed his disbelief at the reported decision. "We are now pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty? Really? Please tell me this can't be true."

O'Brien and the White House are yet to comment on Engel's letter, and the White House did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for clarification.

Engel ended his letter by requesting O'Brien's "personal engagement on this matter to ensure that the United States does not unwisely and rashly withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which continues to serve American national security interests and is particularly important as a check against further Russian aggression against Ukraine."

Donald Trump, Open Skies, Russia, Vladimir Putin
This file photo shows a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft flying out from Perth International Airport on April 16, 2014 in Perth, Australia. Greg Wood - Pool/Getty Images/Getty