Situation Report: Kerry and the Cubans; Iran open for business; Abadi to D.C.; Air power ain’t the only power; and more
- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
By Paul McLeary and Sabine Muscat
Leading the day: Just a week after Iran and international negotiators reached a preliminary deal regarding Tehran’s nuclear program, countries — and companies — around the world are knocking down Iran’s door and hunting for business, reports FP’s Keith Johnson and Jamila Trindle.
Leading next week: Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi is coming to Washington next week for what promises to be a dizzying spin through a town gearing up for a presidential race with several eager congressmen very, very much in the mix. We don’t have many details just yet — other than a speech at the Chamber of Commerce and an invite-only think tank event on Thursday followed by a hotel cocktail reception — but Abadi’s problems at home guarantee that this won’t be a friendly diplomatic meet-n-greet to discuss trade deals.
Deals on the way? Both Abadi and his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki have lobbied the Obama administration hard for expedited weapons shipments and big-ticket items like tanks and fighter jets, with mixed results. That’s not to say that the Iraqis aren’t flush with American gear however, as this list of foreign military sales to Iraq makes pretty clear.
The U.S. has already agreed to sell Baghdad 36 F-16 fighter jets, but so far only two of first 24 Iraqi pilots are slated to graduate as instructor pilots by 2017.
Revolution Rock. Late last night a senior State Department official confirmed that John Kerry and Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez “had a lengthy and very constructive discussion” at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama. We don’t have much more at the moment, but apparently they “made progress.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf even Tweeted a pic of the duo, featuring an exhausted-looking secretary of state. President Obama is also expected to announce Cuba’s removal from the he U.S. list of state sponsors of terror at the summit.
Asia rebalance lives. State also announced last night that Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will play host to a meeting of his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on April 16 to “continue our close coordination with these two important U.S. allies on shared regional and global priorities.” The meeting comes a week after defense secretary Ash Carter visited Tokyo and Seoul, meeting with heads of state and defense officials.
Cyber! We remembered! After all but forgetting to include a cyber component in its new weapons development and acquisition strategy, the Department of Defense now says that it’s taking cyber security seriously. Seriously. FP’s Paul McLeary and David Francis report.
The problem with air wars is…. We don’t want to get in trouble with any Curtis LeMay fans out there, but fighting a war against a malleable insurgency strictly through air power is…tough. FP’s Elias Groll runs down the Houthi gains made over the past couple days, despite the nightly Saudi and Emirati airstrikes.
Friday night lights. Finally, tonight at the American Society of International Law meeting in Washington, the defense department’s top lawyer, Stephen Preston, will talk about “the domestic and international legal bases for U.S. military operations against ISIL in Iraq and Syria,” a Pentagon spokesperson emailed last night. He’ll note that “ISIL is the same enemy” as al-Qaeda in Iraq, “as well as the administration’s legal rationale for targeting ISIL under the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.” Bold is ours.
As we wrap up another week, let me please welcome you back to the Situation Report. Thanks for opening your email! Tips, events, scoops, and docs can be sent along to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @paulmcleary.
“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has cautioned against seeing a preliminary agreement on his country’s nuclear programme as the ‘guarantee’ of a final deal with world powers,” reports the BBC.
Khamenei has also expressed a willingness to walk away from the talks entirely. In a speech Thursday, Ayatollah said that he is “neither for nor against the deal” and demanded that the sanctions regime against Iran be lifted immediately after a final agreement is inked. FP’s Elias Groll, however, finds that the White House is trolling the good ayatollah pretty hard, though.
“Senate backers of a bill the White House fears could dismantle a potential nuclear deal with Iran are closing in on a veto-proof threshold of support,” says CNN. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will likely greenlight the bill on Tuesday and hold a full Senate vote soon after.”
AFP’s Pascale Mollard and Stéphane Jourdain: “France’s TV5Monde television channel was forced to shelve its regular programming Thursday after falling victim to an ‘unprecedented’ hack by self-proclaimed Islamic State militants, who also hijacked its website and social networks.”
The PLO is conflicted over military action against the Islamic State, as Reuters’s Marwan Maqdisi reports: “The PLO said on Thursday it refused to be drawn into supporting any military offensive in the war-battered Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus, backing away from earlier comments by one of its members that lent support to Syrian army action against insurgents there.”
Reuters’s Lindsay Dunsmuir and Marty Reardon: “An American man has been charged with trying to provide support for the Islamic State militant group, the U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday.”
China and its neighbors
Chinese media reports about a new ambitious plan raised concern in Indian media. “China plans to build a 540-kilometre strategic high-speed rail link between Tibet and Nepal passing through a tunnel under Mt. Everest, a move that could raise alarm in India about the Communist giant’s growing influence in its neighbourhood,” reports the Economic Times.
Meanwhile, China told its Southeast Asian neighbors not to worry about its artificial island projects, as the New York Times’ Edward Wong reports: “A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on Thursday defended China’s island-building work in contested waters in the South China Sea, saying the infrastructure the nation was constructing around reefs, rocks and shoals was within China’s sovereign rights and would help ships in the event of typhoons.”
Assailants armed with heavy weapons and suicide vests stormed the provincial prosecutor’s office in the normally peaceful Mazar-i-Sharif on Thursday the New York Times says, battling security forces for more than six hours and leaving at least 10 people dead and dozens wounded.
The “Normandy Four” will meet again, the Associated Press reports. “Germany’s foreign minister has invited his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and France to Berlin Monday to discuss implementation of the peace agreement brokered in Minsk, Belarus in February.
Reuters’s Adrian Croft: “Dutch troops gathered at an air base on Thursday as part of an 11-nation exercise to test NATO’s new rapid response targets that have been tightened following concern over new Russian assertiveness.”
Calling Russia the biggest challenge to European security, Nordic nations agreed on closer defense ties and increased solidarity with the Baltic states on Thursday, aiming to increase regional security through deterrence, Reuters says.
Amid continuing debate among members of the NATO alliance over how much to spend on defense, the British conservatives party “will not make a general election commitment to meeting NATO’s target of spending 2 per cent of national income on defence,” The Telegraph reports.
The head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) says that he organization is teaming with the Somali government and the U.N. for a series of exercises this month to determine if the U.N. establishes peacekeeping mission in Somalia.