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Trump says he could tap Pompeo deputy to be new ambassador to Russia

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “could very well be” his pick to be the new envoy to Russia.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump did not deny reports that he planned to nominate Sullivan as ambassador to Russia, saying that the current No. 2 to Secretary Mike Pompeo was “very respected” and that Pompeo likes him “very much.”
“He’s somebody that’s being put up and respected very much,” Trump said.
Sullivan would take over for current Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who announced his resignation from the job earlier this month after two years in Moscow.
If confirmed, Sullivan would become Trump’s Russia liaison at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow have cooled considerably, and as Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to come under heavy scrutiny.
Huntsman’s tenure in Moscow was marked by tit-for-tat sanctions and diplomatic expulsions, fallout from Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, and warnings that the Kremlin plans to do so again in 2020.
The U.S. has also struggled with the Kremlin’s aggression in cyberspace and its meddling in other international affairs — most notably in Venezuela and Syria — and new diplomatic forays with North Korea, as well as the deterioration of several arms control treaties, including the longstanding Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
Sullivan headed up a U.S. delegation to Geneva last month to discuss arms control with Russia, being subbed in to lead the talks at the last minute after it was revealed that top arms control negotiator Andrea Thompson had failed to disclose her ties to the boyfriend of Russian foreign agent Maria Butina.
The president has repeatedly expressed the desire to ink a new nuclear treaty with Putin to head off an arms race, telling reporters in recent weeks that there is mutual interest emanating from Moscow. The chances of the two countries negotiating and ratifying a new deal before next year’s election, however, are slim.
Sullivan was tapped for the No. 2 job at State in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, originally serving under the president’s first secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and serving briefly as acting secretary in the time between Tillerson’s departure and Pompeo’s confirmation. Sullivan was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 by a comfortable 94-6 margin.
Sullivan has been well-regarded at State, including under Tillerson, who was widely disliked, a factor Trump nodded to on Tuesday.
In his confirmation hearing for the deputy job, Sullivan vowed to take a hard line on Russia, calling for a “robust” response to Russia’s “intrusion into our democracy.”
“Interference with our political processes is simply unacceptable,” he added. “It is a profound threat to our way of life, and we need to respond as robustly as we can, using all of the means that we have at our disposal.”
In addition, he focused on the importance of fortifying cybersecurity at the State Department, calling Russia’s election-related hacking the result of “failed cybersecurity” by the U.S. and the federal government.
Before joining the Trump administration in 2017, Sullivan was a partner at Mayer Brown LLP, a law firm based in Washington, D.C., and served as deputy secretary of Commerce under former President George W. Bush until 2009. Before that, he served as general counsel at Commerce from 2005 to 2007.