Trump's Russia ambassador nominee say US hasn't withdrawn from surveillance flight treaty

Trump's Russia ambassador nominee say US hasn't withdrawn from surveillance flight treaty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has been nominated to be the next ambassador to Russia, said Wednesday he has been assured the United States has not withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty after hearing rumors to the contrary.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 TrumpWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' Bolton told Barr he was concerned Trump did favors for autocrats: report Dershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense 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 BoltonWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' Bolton told Barr he was concerned Trump did favors for autocrats: report Dershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense 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 MarkeySenate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Twitter tells facial-recognition app maker to stop collecting its data 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 CruzRepublicans show little enthusiasm for impeachment witness swap Texas House special election to gauge suburban mood Texas Democrats roll out plan to win state House in November 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.”