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White House

Biden Attacked Trump for Withdrawing from Open Skies Treaty, Now He Tells Russia U.S. Won’t Rejoin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in Moscow March 10, 2011. (Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

Last May, when President Trump announced a decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, candidate Joe Biden blasted the decision, claiming Trump had, “doubled down on his short-sighted policy of going it alone and abandoning American leadership.” Yet ahead of a summit with Vladimir Putin next month, the Biden administration has informed Russia that it has no intention of rejoining the agreement.

The Trump administration withdrew from the agreement, which started in 2002 as a way for dozens of countries to freely conduct surveillance flights over each other’s territory. When Trump decided to withdraw, noting that Russia was not abiding by its commitments under the treaty, Democrats responded in high dungeon.

“The President’s withdrawal will senselessly blind America and our allies while emboldening our enemies,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fumed. “This decision sends a clear signal to the Russians that they can continue their bad behavior unwatched and unchecked.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer joined with leading Democratic committee chairs in writing a letter declaring, “The Open Skies Treaty is an important, multilateral agreement that provides the United States and its allies critical information about Russian military forces via flights over Russian territory.”

Biden said that the treaty was necessary.

“I supported the Open Skies Treaty as a Senator, because I understood that the United States and our allies would benefit from being able to observe — on short notice — what Russia and other countries in Europe were doing with their military forces,” he wrote in a statement posted on Medium. “That has remained true for the nearly two decades the treaty has been in force. During the Obama Administration, the United States and our partners successfully used Open Skies flights and imagery to support Ukraine when Russia violated its territory, disprove Russian disinformation, and show the world what Russia was doing.”

As to Russian cheating, he said, ” Russian violations should be addressed not by withdrawing from the Treaty, but by seeking to resolve them through the Treaty’s implementation and dispute mechanism. That is exactly how other disputes over Russian implementation have been resolved, including altitude restrictions over Chechnya.”

He concluded, “Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump should take common sense steps to keep Americans safe. He should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia’s compliance.”

Yet for all that huffing and puffing, the Associated Press reports:

The Biden administration informed Russia on Thursday that it will not rejoin a key arms control pact, even as the two sides prepare for a summit next month between their leaders.

U.S. officials said Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Russians that the administration had decided not to reenter the Open Skies Treaty, which had allowed surveillance flights over military facilities in both countries but that former President Donald Trump had withdrawn from.