WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refuted claims that the Trump administration is soft on Russia.
“The United States does not and will not recognize the Kremlin’s purported annexation of Crimea. We stand together with allies, partners and the international community in our commitment to Ukraine and its territorial integrity,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on Wednesday.
Pompeo added: “There will be no relief of Crimea-related sanctions until Russia returns control of the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine.”
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The hearing comes nine days after President Donald Trump provoked bipartisan outrage in response to comments he made at a joint news conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Trump doubted the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Trump blamed Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s collusion probe for current tensions between the U.S. and Russia. Trump entertained a proposal by Putin to allow Russia to participate in the Mueller probe.
Pompeo told the committee he has briefed Trump on Russia’s election inference and that the president accepts the intelligence community’s assessment.
Pompeo attended the summit but was not present for the 90-minute one-on-one Trump-Putin meeting that preceded the news conference. Pompeo did attend the follow-up meeting which included the two leaders and their respective foreign policy teams.
Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) expressed concern about the summit and the lack of clarity in the administration’s foreign policy agenda.
“We really need a clear understanding as to what is going on, what our President is agreeing to and what our strategy is on a number of issues,” Corker said in his opening statement.
Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in his opening statement that Trump’s foreign policy approach consists of “saber-rattling” and has produced little in terms of concrete results.
Menendez pressed Pompeo as to what was discussed during the closed-door meeting.
“Did he (Trump) tell you what transpired in the two-hour meeting?”
Pompeo responded in the affirmative.
“I had a number of conversations with President Trump about what transpired in the meeting. I was also present when he (Trump) and president Putin both gave us a sense of what they discussed in the meeting that followed immediately after.”
Menendez asked Pompeo if he spoke with the translator who was present during the meeting.
“No, I haven’t,” Pompeo replied.
Menendez asked Pompeo if he had seen the translator’s notes.
“Senator, I’ve been in lots of meetings and had lots of notetakers and I never relied on the work they did,” Pompeo shot back.
Menendez asked if sanctions relief was discussed during the meeting.
“Senator, the U.S. policy with respect to sanctions remains completely unchanged,” Pompeo replied.
Menendez persisted, which prompted Pompeo to tell the senator he was out of line.
“Senator what you need to conduct your role, your appropriate role, I will provide you today,” Pompeo said. “That is United States policy with respect to the issues you asked me about.. I can confirm to you that no commitment has been made to change those policies in anyway.”