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Chairmen Smith and Engel Demand Answers on White House Scheme on Open Skies Treaty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), today demanded answers from the Trump Administration about reported plans to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. In a letter to National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, the lawmakers requested clarity on additional reports of the White House directing the Department of State and Department of Defense not to discuss these matters with Congress.

“We write to express our concerns regarding the future of the Open Skies Treaty, which plays an important role in advancing Euro-Atlantic security…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. “We are specifically disturbed by reports indicating that both the State Department and the Department of Defense have been ordered by the White House not to discuss the Open Skies Treaty with Congress… This stonewalling only serves to undermine collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of our government on matters of national security.”

Representative Engel previously sent a letter to National Security Advisor O’Brien about these concerns on October 7, while Representatives Engel and Smith joined Senators Robert Menendez and Jack Reed of the Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Armed Services Committees respectively on a letter to Secretaries Pompeo and Esper on October 8. The Administration has failed to respond to these previous queries.

Full text can be found here and below:

Dear Mr. O’Brien:

We write to express our concerns regarding the future of the Open Skies Treaty, which plays an important role in advancing Euro-Atlantic security.  These concerns were first brought to your attention in a letter dated October 7, and a similar letter was sent to Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Esper on October 8.  We have attached copies of this correspondence.  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.

We are specifically disturbed by reports indicating that both the State Department and the Department of Defense have been ordered by the White House not to discuss the Open Skies Treaty with Congress. We are also concerned that the White House may have used biased analysis as it pertains to potential Treaty withdrawal, failing to ensure an objective process and neglecting to properly coordinate with the departments and agencies responsible for the Treaty’s implementation.

Furthermore, we cannot continue to walk away from commitments we have made to our allies in NATO to hold Russia accountable for their actions. During his confirmation testimony on October 30, 2019, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, the Administration’s nominee for Ambassador to Russia, said that there would need to be substantial evidence to support withdrawal, and that the Administration would consult with Congress, as well as our allies and other Treaty signatories, prior to any such decision. To date we have received any to support withdrawal, nor any analysis of the impact that this withdrawal would have to our allies, who continue to raise concerns about potential U.S. withdrawal.

Congress has a constitutional duty to provide rigorous oversight of the executive branch’s operations, and the Administration should not seek to hide information from Congress or otherwise prevent us from performing appropriate oversight.  This stonewalling only serves to undermine collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of our government on matters of national security.

We ask that you clarify the Administration’s position on the Open Skies Treaty and whether any White House official directed State and Defense Department personnel not to brief or discuss the Administration’s plans regarding the Open Skies Treaty with Congress.  On October 30, Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan testified that the Administration would consult with Congress and our allies prior to taking any decision to withdraw from the Treaty. We appreciate this important commitment.

We ask that the Administration provide the Committees with detailed, written responses (with a classified annex, if necessary), followed by a briefing, no later than December 13, 2019 to the following:

An analysis of flights conducted by U.S. and allies and 2018 and 2019 under the treaty, as well as a description of the diplomatic, military, intelligence utility of the data collected, to include other aspects in addition to the imagery.

Details regarding mitigation measures in place for U.S. assets, located both inside and outside the United States, to address Open Skies collection risks posed by Open Skies Treaty overflights.

Communications from NATO allies and partners through diplomatic and military channels expressing their viewpoints of potential U.S. withdrawal from the Treaty.

It is our hope that we can work together to advance our national security interests. We request your personal engagement on this to ensure that the United States does not unwisely and rashly withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which continues to serve U.S., allied and partner national security interests.  We look forward to hearing from you immediately on any steps the Administration has taken pertaining to the Open Skies Treaty.

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