Dems demand Mattis, Pompeo brief on Trump's withdrawal from arms control treaty

Dems demand Mattis, Pompeo brief on Trump's withdrawal from arms control treaty
© Anna Moneymaker

Top Democrats on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees on Wednesday demanded a briefing from the Trump administration on its plans to withdraw from a landmark arms control treaty with Russia.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoU.S. releases new photos purporting to show Iran was behind tanker attack U.S. releases new photos purporting to show Iran was behind tanker attack Tensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat MORE and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTop nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One MORE, the lawmakers warned that withdrawing from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty could “risk an arms race.”

“We write to express our grave concern that the Trump administration is notifying Russia that the United States intends to unilaterally withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, without any notice to or consultation with Congress, even as our committees had requested a briefing on these issues,” wrote Reps. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (D-Wash.) and Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Bipartisan House bill seeks to punish Burma for genocide MORE (D-N.Y.), the ranking members of Armed Services and Foreign Affairs, respectively.

“If this action is taken, it would risk an arms race, would jeopardize the security of our allies in Europe and Asia, and would significantly undermine U.S. leadership on arms control,” they added.

The letter was co-signed by Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksTop Finance Democrat offers bill to end tax breaks for private prison companies Top Finance Democrat offers bill to end tax breaks for private prison companies Criticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe MORE (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE confirmed over the weekend that he intends to withdraw from the 1987 arms control treaty. He cited what his administration says are continued violations by the Russians.

National security adviser John Bolton reaffirmed the decision Tuesday when meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and said a formal notice of withdrawal “will be filed in due course.”

The treaty, which has been credited with helping end the Cold War, bans nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,400 miles.

In 2014, the United States accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing a banned missile. Earlier this year, it said Russia further violated the treaty by deploying the missile.

The Trump administration also argues that withdrawal is necessary to counter China, which is not a party to the treaty.

In their four-page letter, Democrats requested Mattis and Pompeo brief lawmakers when Congress reconvenes the week of Nov. 13.

“We expect a full explanation of why Congress was not even informed of such a decision, and an explanation of why the administration has chosen to take such precipitous, ill-advised – and potentially reckless – action, rather than working with our allies to increase pressure on Russia to return to compliance under the treaty,” they wrote.

Trump’s decision, they said, “discards the results of the administration’s own extensive review” on how to respond to Russia’s violations. The Pentagon has not made any determination on testing or deploying intermediate-range missiles that would justify withdrawing from the treaty, the lawmakers added.

The administration's move also plays into Putin’s hands, the Democrats argued, by allowing him to expand his missile arsenal unfettered and shift blame to the United States for the death of the treaty.

The lawmakers went on to argue that withdrawal would create an unnecessary divide within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“Furthermore, the administration failed to take any effective actions to try to bring Russia back into compliance, including using the dispute resolution mechanism in the INF Treaty, or other diplomatic and economic measures,” they wrote.

The lawmakers requested Mattis and Pompeo provide written answers to their questions by Nov. 2. They asked for an assessment of the military threat to the United States and its European allies of deploying intermediate-range missiles without restriction, the status of the administration’s December 2017 announcement on using an integrated approach to push Russia back into compliance and the status of consultations with allies.

The lawmakers also raised concerns about the status of a separate treaty with Russia known as New START, which caps the number of nuclear warheads each country is allowed to deploy. The treaty is up for renewal in 2021.

“As you know, the INF Treaty, alongside New START Treaty, forms the basis for our strategic relationship with Russia,” they wrote. “These treaties have been crucial tools to help preserve U.S. and European security and reduce the risk of nuclear war with Russia by ensuring mutual transparency and stability of both the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles. They have also provided the framework enabling insight into Russia’s forces and on-site inspections to verify compliance. We will neither support, nor enable, a precipitous course of action that increases the risk of an unconstrained nuclear arms race.”