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5 Jan, 2019 04:48

NASA rescinds invitation to Russian space chief amid pressure from US lawmakers

NASA rescinds invitation to Russian space chief amid pressure from US lawmakers

NASA has indefinitely postponed a visit by Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, which was set for next month. It would have required a sanctions waiver, as Rogozin has been barred from the US since 2014.

"NASA has informed the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, that the proposed visit of Roscosmos Director General, Dr Dmitry Rogozin, currently planned for February 2019, will need to be postponed," NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers told Sputnik on Friday. No new date for the visit has yet been set.

The about-face from NASA comes just days after Powers told Politico that planning for Rogozin's trip to meet NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in the US was underway despite a growing outcry from some hard-line lawmakers.

Confirming that there were no plans to cancel the visit on Tuesday, Powers highlighted the importance of US-Russia cooperation in space, ongoing since the 1970s, and pointed out that Rogozin's visit would have come in return for Bridenstine's visit to Russia in October.

Also on rt.com NASA still preparing for visit by sanctioned Roscosmos chief despite ire in Washington

Bridenstine, a former Republican representative for Oklahoma's 1st congressional district, took the reigns in NASA in April after a seven-and-a-half-month confirmation hiatus.

During his visit in October, the NASA administrator not only witnessed the launch of a new crew to the International Space Station (ISS), but also delivered a speech at Moscow State University, a top Russian school.

In return, Bridenstine invited Rogozin to speak at his own alma mater, Rice University in Houston.

Since Rogozin is on the list of sanctioned officials due to his support for Crimea's reunification with Russia, NASA asked for a waiver so it could host him.

Cooperation in space is one of the very few areas where the US and Russia are still able to find common ground and have mutual interests, so the idea of the Russian space chief coming to the US does not sound completely unreasonable – but peddlers of the anti-Russian narrative in the US media and an array of hawkish lawmakers have made a strong case against allowing Rogozin in.

For instance, leading 'Russiagate' proponent Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the top Democrat on the US Senate Intelligence Committee, called the idea of Rogozin stepping onto the US soil "appalling."  

"It absolutely sends the wrong message to lift sanctions, even temporarily, for the purpose of inviting him to speak to students at one of our nation's premier universities," he said.

Facing imminent backlash, Rice University said that it had not extended any invitation to Rogozin, while distancing itself from any NASA plans. 

The Washington Post published an op-ed by a Russian opposition politician with the headline that warned the US authorities against "letting a Russian ultra-nationalist to the US."

Roscosmos, meanwhile, said that it had not been notified by NASA about the postponement of Rogozin's visit.

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