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Democrats push White House on plans to exit Open Skies Treaty

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HALIFAX, Canada — The chairmen of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committee said Friday that the Trump administration is “stonewalling” Congress on the Open Skies Treaty, and they want to know whether the administration plans to stick with the pact or pull out.

In a letter to National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Reps. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., raised concerns that the Trump administration appears to be evaluating America’s future with the 34-nation treaty, which includes Russia and allows mutual reconnaissance flights of each other’s territory. The duo sought clarity on reports of the White House directing the Department of State and Department of Defense not to discuss these matters with Congress.

“Given the importance of the Treaty, which is a key element of the existing arms control framework that allows the U.S. and our allies to monitor Russia’s military maneuvers, we are again bringing this matter to your attention and seeking clarity regarding the Administration’s intentions,” the lawmakers wrote.

“This stonewalling only serves to undermine collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of our government on matters of national security.”

They asked that the administration provide the committees with detailed, written responses (with a classified annex, if necessary), followed by a briefing, no later than Dec. 13, 2019 to the following:

The chairmen say the administration has not responded to an Oct. 7 letter from Engel to O’Brien, nor a separate letter on the treaty from Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

European allies have been lobbying the U.S. to stay in the treaty as a valuable channel for transparency and dialogue between Russia and the United States. Some U.S. officials have claimed Russia misuses the treaty to target critical U.S. infrastructure, and Washington is pressing U.S. allies to assuage its concerns.

The letter also adds to the action on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Jimmy Pannetta, D-Calif., introduced bipartisan legislation on Monday that would require added steps before the U.S. would be able to exit the agreement.

Senate AirLand Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, last month introduced legislation to withdraw from Open Skies and to declassify to the maximum extent possible U.S. intelligence about how Russia exploits the treaty to undermine American national security. Cotton, a longtime opponent of the treaty, has said the money would be better spent on more urgent Air Force projects.

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