SitRep: Trump Willing To Go It Alone On North Korea; Egypt Reset; White House Favors Arms Sales Over Human Rights

SitRep: Trump Willing To Go It Alone On North Korea; Egypt Reset; White House Favors Arms Sales Over Human Rights


With Adam Rawnsley

Solo in North Korea? President Donald Trump recently granted an interview to the Financial Times in which he pledged to go it alone on North Korea.

“China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” Trump said, just days before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Trump’s for-profit Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders.

When asked if he would pursue some sort of grand bargain where China leaned on Pyongyang in return for Washington reducing its military presence in South Korea, the president replied, “well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that “a lot of conversation and the most important conversation will be how we’re going to be dealing with the nonproliferation of North Korea.”

Haley on Russia. The new U.S. ambassador has also been making her voice heard on Russia and Syria, saying Sunday that “there’s no love or anything going on with Russia right now…I think that Russia is very aware that they’re on notice when it comes to certain issues.” Haley has been consistently tough on Russia, telling the U.N. in February that Crimea, despite Russia’s annexation, remains a part of Ukraine and that U.S. sanctions would stay in place until Russia returned control of it.

Cairo to DC. On Monday, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi will be the first Egyptian leader to visit Washington since 2009, signaling a willingness by the Trump administration to work with a government in Cairo accused of mass human rights violations.

The two leaders share an antipathy to political Islam, and al-Sissi is expected to push for the United States to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, something the White House has reportedly been considering. The fight against terrorism — in particular the Islamic State, which has taken root in the Sinai and carried out attacks elsewhere in Egypt — will also be high on the agenda, as will the continuation of Washington’s yearly $1.3 billion in military assistance and getting past the stoppage of some arms sales under the Obama administration after a series of violent crackdowns on dissent under al-Sissi.

The visit comes just days after the Trump administration agreed to resume arms sales to Bahrain in the form of a $2.8 billion deal for F-16 fighter planes, tossing aside human-rights-related conditions imposed by Obama. Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, is also the scene of what many observers see as an Iranian-backed Shiite insurgency.

“Taken together,” the New York Times’ Peter Baker writes, “the moves reinforce the message that Mr. Trump plans to make security cooperation the cornerstone of his approach to the region, without human rights becoming an obstacle, unlike President George W. Bush, who also emphasized the development of democracy, or Mr. Obama, who pressed autocratic states to ease repression.”

Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. Washington’s single-minded focus on fighting terrorist groups was underlined last week when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told NATO allies in Brussels that “fighting terrorism is the top national security priority for the United States, as it should be for all of us.”

He’s on it, guys. Adding to his White House portfolio that extends from reforming government to taking point on U.S.-China relations to brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner — heir to a real estate fortune with no international relations experience — visited Iraq over the weekend at the invitation of Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has yet to visit the country, which hosts as many of 6,000 U.S. troops, and is home to the largest U.S. Embassy in the world.

The New York Times had an interesting tidbit over the weekend, reporting that Kushner sits in on National Security Council “principals committee” meetings, including a recent one called to discuss North Korea. “He was seated at the table in the Situation Room when Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked in. Seeing no chairs open, General Dunford headed for the backbenches, according to two people who were there. Mr. Kushner, they said, quickly offered his chair to General Dunford and took a seat along the wall.”

Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

How do you solve a problem like Korea? North Korea has vexed many an American president with its advancing weapons of mass destruction programs and few options to curb them. Now, according to Reuters, the Trump White House is looking to put its stamp on North Korea policy with a new review of what levers the U.S. has to change Pyongyang’s behavior. Anonymous senior officials tell the wire service that the review, led by National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster, includes an option to ratchet up sanctions on North Korea as well as Chinese companies that do business with it.

Russia. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is emerging as one of the Trump administration’s toughest voices on Russia. On Sunday, Haley told ABC’s This Week that she’s happy to be “beating up” on Moscow and that President Trump’s famously warm feelings for Russian President Putin aren’t stopping her from carrying out that role. Haley said that, despite the investigations of the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia,  “there’s no love or anything going on with Russia right now.” Haley has been consistently tough on Russia, telling the U.N. in February that Crimea, despite Russia’s annexation, remains a part of Ukraine and that U.S. sanctions would stay in place until Russia returned control of it.

The Bahrain connection. The U.S. is growing concerned about the covert pipeline of arms Iran has established to militants in Bahrain, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. Bahraini officials have repeatedly said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is shipping weapons to the country, but Bahrain’s human rights record against Shiite dissidents lead many, including the U.S., to be skeptical about such claims. But U.S. intelligence has since forensically tested some of the seized explosives provided by Bahrain and learned they came from a known batch made in Iran. Equipment for making explosively-formed projectiles found in the caches leads some to believe that Iran is supplying militants for a future conflict with U.S. forces in Bahrain, rather than lightly-armed local police.

Crazy Ivan. The Cold War is back and it’s reaching to the depths of the ocean. The AP reports that Russian naval officials are trumpeting what they say is an increase in submarine combat patrols not seen since the days when the Soviet Union was still around. Speaking at the launch of a new Yasen-class submarine, Russian navy chief Adm. Vladimir Korolyov said Russia has now extended sailors’ time on combat patrols to up to 3,000 days.

Personnel. President Trump’s Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland could be out the door and en route to a diplomatic post, according to CNN. The cable news outlet reports that McFarland has been offered both the role of ambassador to Singapore and an unspecified top job at the State Department. McFarland’s role on the National Security Council has been up in the air since President Trump fired his first national security advisor, Michael Flynn. Other candidates for Flynn’s job had reportedly asked for the ability to hire their own team. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the current national security advisor, has since hired Dina Powell as deputy national security adviser for strategy.

The Empire Strikes Back. The U.K. is involved in a bizarre war or words with Spain that harkens back to an 18th century dispute over a tiny peninsula in the Mediterranean. British officials have said they’d be willing to go to war with Spain, their fellow NATO member, in order to hold onto Gibraltar after the issue of its ownership came up as part of Britain’s exit negotiations with the European Union. British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the country would be willing to go “all the way” in order to defend Gibraltar with former Conservative Party leader Lord Michael Howard saying British Prime Minister Theresa May would show the “same resolve” as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did in the Falklands War.


Photo Credit: DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images