Trump's Russia ambassador nominee say US hasn't withdrawn from surveillance flight treaty

Trump's Russia ambassador nominee say US hasn't withdrawn from surveillance flight treaty
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Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who has been nominated to be the next ambassador to Russia, said Wednesday he has been assured the United States has not withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty after hearing rumors to the contrary.

“There would need to be substantial evidence to support the national security interest for withdrawal from that treaty, and there would need to be consultations with this committee, with Congress and, in particular, with our NATO allies and the other countries that are members of the treaty,” Sullivan said at his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing, which was largely focused on his knowledge of allegations at the center of the impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE.

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The fate of the Open Skies Treaty has become a growing concern among Democrats.

The treaty, which has been in effect since 2002, allows the pact’s 34 signatories to fly unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of other signatories. The intention is to increase transparency and reduce the risk of military miscalculation.

The United States has also used the treaty in recent years to show support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, flying observation flights in 2018 after Russia seized Ukrainian naval ships and in 2014 after Russia invaded Crimea.

Republicans for years have accused Russia of violating the treaty by blocking flights over some of its territory, including Kaliningrad and areas near its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Democrats, meanwhile, argue Russia’s actions, while concerning, do not constitute a material breach of the treaty and that they should be addressed while the United States remains in the agreement.

Prior to his ouster, former national security advisor John BoltonJohn BoltonBolton rips Trump administration's move to block UN meeting on North Korea Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Kim Jong Un cannot afford to fail again MORE urged Trump to sign a document signaling his intent to withdraw from the treaty, according to The Wall Street Journal. Trump signed it, the Journal reported, citing two unidentified U.S. officials.

Under the terms of the treaty, a withdrawal requires a formal notice to the other signatories. The notice kicks off a six-month withdrawal period.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyWarren proposes 'Blue New Deal' to protect oceans There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trump administration drops plan to face scan all travelers leaving or entering US MORE (D-Mass.) said he “has received information that before John Bolton resigned, President Trump may have made a decision to exit the Open Skies Treaty.”

Sullivan told Markey he “heard those same rumors” and, after asking the White House about them, was assured the United States has not withdrawn from the treaty.

“To my knowledge, the United States has not withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty,” he said. “In fact, the United States this month is chairing the Open Skies Consultative Commission.”

Sullivan told Markey he has not personally made a decision on whether the United States should withdraw, adding that Congress and allies have not yet been consulted. Sullivan said he has consulted with the U.S. ambassadors to NATO and to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, adding he “heard their views and conveyed those views about their view that we should continue to be members of the treaty.”

The treaty “has been in our interest, and to the extent that it’s not, we need to be transparent about why,” Sullivan added.

Pressed later by Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBarr: 'I haven't looked into' whether Ukraine meddled in 2016 election Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence FBI head rejects claims of Ukrainian 2016 interference MORE (R-Texas), an Open Skies opponent, on the intelligence risks of allowing Russian flights over the United States, Sullivan said he did not want discuss intelligence assessments in a public setting, before pivoting back to the importance of consulting Congress and U.S. allies.

“What I’ve been most concerned about with is,” Sullivan said, “if we were to reach that decision that, informed by intelligence community analysis and so forth that it no longer was in the United States interest to continue in the treaty, that we would need to engage in, we the administration, a consultation process with this committee, with Congress and with our allies.”