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Lawmakers Query Pompeo for ‘Mischaracterized NATO Allies’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Lawmakers demand specific details from him as to President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last week. Pompeo says he has personally told top Russian officials that there will be “severe consequences” for any interference in U.S. elections or the American democratic process.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that President Donald Trump has mischaracterized NATO allies as paying their bills or owing the United States.

In a highly anticipated hearing Wednesday about President Trump’s one-on-one meeting the other day between Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., challenged Pompeo.

“It would have been a mischaracterization to state, they (NATO countries) aren’t bill paying towards the United States?”

“That is correct,” Pompeo replied.

Corker criticized Trump for crossing a line with a recent NATO summit in Brussels beyond pressing members on burden sharing. “He went on to berate them, question the very premise of NATO and, for me, used false information to make public opinion with the United States from the alliance,” Corker said.

Trump has, in numerous ways, conflated members’ goals of spending 2 percent of the gross domestic products on defenses. At a July 11 ending up in NATO’s secretary general, by way of example, Trump said, “many countries owe us a huge cost for countless years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has experienced to fund them.”

“I’m likely to tell NATO, ‘You gotta start paying your bills. The United States is not likely to look after everything,’ Trump said July 5 throughout a political rally before Brussels.

Wednesday’s hearing was otherwise marked by combative exchanges, mostly with Democrats, over the wisdom of Trump’s private meeting Putin and whether Trump was tough enough with Putin on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula or its meddling in U.S. elections. (North Korea talks and Iran were also hot topics.)

But a defiant Pompeo listed the administration’s many actions against Moscow as “proof” it’s having a hard line, including imposing sanctions, expelling Russian diplomats, closing a consulate and providing arms to Ukraine, the place that the military is fighting Russia-backed separatists. The appearance came an hour after as the U.S. designed a formal declaration rejecting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and Pompeo asserted Trump had taken “a staggering amount of actions to protect our interests,” pertaining to Moscow.

A key exchange came mid hearing when Corker took another run at Pompeo, pressing him to get candid about the president’s “damaging” remarks on Russian election interference and the questioning of NATO’s mutual defense agreement.

“To purposely cause the American people to misunderstand about the NATO contributions and to make them doubt NATO, also to really drive public opinion against NATO, that to me was purposeful,” Corker said, before heaping praise on Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“But it does not take president’s actions that creates tremendous distrust within our nation among, among our allies. It’s palpable. We meet and talk to them. Is there a process to this? What is it that causes the president to purposely, purposely create distrust in these institutions, and what we’re doing?” Corker said.

Pompeo refuted the idea of a gulf from the administration and asserted Trump, who is definitely the leader, has put Putin, “in a very difficult place.”

“You somehow disconnect the administration’s activities from the president’s actions,” Pompeo told Corker. “They’re one and the same.”

Frustrated, Corker accused Pompeo to be evasive: “I recognize that you are certainly not responding to what I’m saying.”

Pompeo suggested the president’s rhetoric has become results. U.S. allies, he said, are “behaving differently today” and “scrambling to find out how to make certain these are fully portion of NATO.”

Earlier on, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., plus a co-lead with the Senate NATO Observer Group, pressed Pompeo on another side with the issue. Because the White House has been opaque for the summit, the Kremlin is claiming Helsinki yielded various agreements on Syria, catching the Pentagon off guard.

Shaheen asked Pompeo whether Trump had discussed with Putin military cooperation in Syria or even a downgrade with the U.S. troop presence. Pompeo sidestepped repeatedly, responding that U.S. policy have not changed.

“That policy, with respect to deconfliction with Russia, hasn’t changed,” Pompeo said. “I will defer to the Department of Defense for details around that. I can tell you that this policies that were in place with respect on the efforts to keep American pilots safe, keep American forces safe, the policy has not yet changed.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense earlier this week accused U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel, America’s top military commander to the Middle East, of discrediting Trump after Votel expressed hesitancy about working with Russia in Syria. Shaheen voiced concern the administration hadn’t answered defend Votel.

“It seems to me that the response towards the Russian Ministry of Defense ought to be very strong to convey they’ve nothing to express with what our generals do in Syria,” Shaheen said. “That’s not their business.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., questioned Pompeo more than a Washington Post report how the chairman in the Joint Chiefs, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, hadn’t been formally briefed about the Helsinki summit, greater than a week later.

“I’ve actually spoken with Chairman Dunford over it,” Pompeo replied. “I was with him in a very group of meetings and we had a possibility to use a conversation about this.”

Kaine also pressed Pompeo on whether the administration planned to check out an authorized prohibition on military-to-military cooperation relating to the U.S. and Russia.

Pompeo said it would be a question best directed for the Pentagon, adding, “Broadly, yes, this administration follows regulations.”

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