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Lawmakers: When Did Defense Nominee Know of Alleged Moscow Treaty Breach?

U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), right, speaks at a December news conference with Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss), left. The two lawmakers want to know whether a White House nominee to a key Pentagon position knew of alleged Russian violations of a 1980s arms control pact when he was lobbying the Senate to approve the New START accord in 2010. U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), right, speaks at a December news conference with Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss), left. The two lawmakers want to know whether a White House nominee to a key Pentagon position knew of alleged Russian violations of a 1980s arms control pact when he was lobbying the Senate to approve the New START accord in 2010. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

An Obama nominee to a senior Pentagon post will have to answer questions next week on his knowledge of alleged Russian violations of an arms control pact.

Brian McKeon has been nominated to the position of principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy. In the buildup to next week's Senate confirmation hearing, two Republican lawmakers have written to the Obama administration, demanding to know whether the current National Security Council chief of staff was aware back in 2010 that Russia was suspected of violating a nuclear-forces reduction pact, the Daily Beast reported.

The Obama administration recently acknowledged having concerns that Russia is in breach of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, though it has yet to formally accuse Moscow of any violation. The apparent source of concern is Russian testing of a new ground-launched cruise missile, dating back to 2008. The agreement prohibits Russia and the United States from producing, stockpiling or testing any cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.

In their letter, Senate Armed Services Committee members Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) demanded to know whether McKeon was aware of the alleged treaty breach at the time when he was acting as a key White House representative on Capitol Hill during the push to secure Senate ratification of the New START treaty, according to the news publication.

"Based on your role as Vice President [Joe] Biden’s lead negotiator on the New START treaty and as one of the Obama administration’s primary liaisons with the Senate during the New START ratification process, we are interested in what you knew about potential violations of the INF treaty and what information was shared with the Senate," the two senators said.

Wicker and Ayotte also want answers on why it took the Obama administration so many years to update Congress on its concerns about possible treaty transgressions by Moscow.

"If the administration knew about potential violations during consideration of the treaty and did not fully inform the Senate of these violations while it debated New START, this would represent a serious abrogation of the administration’s responsibilities," states the letter, which was viewed by the Daily Beast.

A Senate Armed Services Committee aide told the news website that McKeon's possible knowledge of purported Russian treaty violations could stymie his confirmation.

"It is not yet clear whether the administration's failure to inform the Senate during [New START] treaty consideration was because of negligence or a deliberate act of bad faith," the committee staffer said.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlyn Hayden opted not to respond to requests for comment on the GOP letter.

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