The Biden administration told partner countries in a diplomatic memo that a US return to the Open Skies Treaty would send the “wrong message” to Russia, a sign that a revival of the treaty is unlikely.
Open Skies allows unarmed surveillance flights over participating countries and is seen as a trust-building pact. The Trump administration withdrew from the treaty last year, and Russia followed in January after attempting to salvage the agreement with the remaining European signatories.
In a State Department memo dated March 31st that was obtained by Defense News, the Biden administration said it is “frankly concerned that agreeing to rejoin a treaty that Russia continues to violate would send the wrong message to Russia and undermine our position on the broader arms control agenda.” It’s not clear how the State Department claims Russia “continues to violate” a treaty that it withdrew from.
As a candidate, President Biden slammed the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the treaty. Biden released a statement last May that said a US withdrawal from Open Skies would “exacerbate growing tensions between the West and Russia, and increase the risks of miscalculation and conflict.”
In February, after the US and Russia agreed to extend New START, the last nuclear arms control treaty between the two powers, Moscow said it was ready to discuss a return to the Open Skies. But judging by the State Department’s memo, the Biden administration does not plan to take Russia up on its offer.