Situation Report: Trump Agrees to Keep Iran Deal; Tillerson Shuttering War Crimes Office; Marines Help in Afghan Fight
- 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.
With Adam Rawnsley
Iran deal. After weeks of internal battles, President Trump agreed on Monday to certify that Iran is complying with an international nuclear agreement with Iran. Last year, dismantling the deal was one of the main themes of his winning presidential campaign.
The deal calls for the administration to notify Congress every 90 days whether Iran keeping up its side of the agreement, which curtailed Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for some sanction relief. The NYT’s Peter Baker reports that the president repeatedly balked at the certification, and only agreed late Monday after his top military and diplomatic advisors convinced him it was the right call. The episode mirrors the struggle the administration experienced during the last go-around in April.
Officials last week had already leaked word about their plans to certify Iran was in compliance, but Trump got cold feet. A 1 p.m. briefing yesterday for reporters got canceled at the last moment. Instead, the White House held a hastily arranged briefing for journalists at 7 p.m. Behind the scenes, a debate was raging. CIA director Mike Pompeo, who as a lawmaker was an outspoken hawk on Iran, was one of those in the White House advocating a tougher line against Tehran, a source familiar with the discussions told Foreign Policy‘s Dan De Luce.
One option that was discussed: finding Iran was in violation of some details of the agreement even if it was not in material breach of the deal. That finding would not trigger any mechanism in the accord, but it would anger Iran and possibly trigger a reaction. In the end, Trump relented. But what will happen at the next 90-day deadline?
Tehran will still feel some pain, however. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung writes that “senior administration officials made clear that the certification was grudging, and said that President Trump intends to impose new sanctions on Iran for ongoing “malign activities” in non-nuclear areas such as ballistic missile development and support for terrorism.”
Tillerson to shutter war crimes office. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “is downgrading the U.S. campaign against mass atrocities, shuttering the Foggy Bottom office that worked for two decades to hold war criminals accountable,” several former U.S. officials told FP’s Colum Lynch.
“Tillerson’s office recently informed Todd Buchwald, the special coordinator of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, that he is being reassigned to a position in the State Department’s office of legal affairs, according to a former U.S. official familiar with the move. Buchwald, a career State Department lawyer, has served in the position since December 2015.”
Office space. The move is part of Tillerson’s top-to-bottom review of how the State Department operates, which will now include several internal boards that will assess what can go, and what should stay. The review is being led by two outside consulting firms.
Afghanistan grinds on. U.S. Apache helicopters and F-16s helped Afghan forces retake a district in the embattled Helmand province the Taliban have held for nine months. The fight for Nawa, on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, marked the second time in a year that government forces pushed the Taliban out of the center, but this time they did it with the help of the U.S. Marine Corps, military officials tell FP.
The Marines provided intelligence and called in airstrikes and artillery. “Nawa plays a large role in the security of Lashkar Gah because it is one of the larger towns that’s just south of Lashkar Gah,” said Col. David Gibbs, the commanding officer for team police, Task Force Southwest, which is made up of 300 Marines.
Bad news for Kabul. The 16-year American-led war in Afghanistan continues to break records for violence. In the first six months of 2017, 1,662 civilians were killed — a two percent rise from what was a record last year — according to a new United Nations report. Another 3,581 civilians were wounded. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a report in April that the government in Kabul controls about 60 percent of the country.
So far this year, U.S. aircraft have dropped 1,634 munitions on targets in Afghanistan, compared with 1,337 in all of 2016, according to numbers provided by the U.S. Air Force, putting American pilots on pace to drop more bombs there then at any point since 2012.
Kush on security. Jared Kushner, Trump son-in-law and the president’s go-to guy on Middle East peace, the economy, tech, intelligence, etc., has filed three updates to his national security questionnaire since submitting it in mid-January. “That is significant because the document — known as an SF-86 — warns that those who submit false information could be charged with a federal crime and face up to five years in prison,” the WaPo points out.
“Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is likely to be interested in Jared Kushner’s evolving disclosure of foreign contacts during the security clearance process, legal analysts said, and it is possible that the president’s son-in-law could be in legal jeopardy for not fully detailing the interactions from the start.”
Not an endorsement. “I am an enormous admirer of Jim Mattis,” Michele Flournoy, CEO of think tank Center for a New American Security, told MSNBC about Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who had offered her a job a the Pentagon earlier this year. “And when he reached out to me, I certainly wanted to do whatever I could to support him. But I didn’t think my own values and policy positions were aligned enough to serve in this administration.”
Drones. The State Department has promised to reform U.S. drone export policy, but America’s restrictive export rules are still fueling a market for China’s armed drones among American allies in the Middle East and Africa, according to the Wall Street Journal. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, normally big ticket spenders on American military hardware, have instead turned to Beijing for drone technology, buying up Wing Loong and CH-4B drones that resemble knock-offs of the U.S. Predator and Reaper.
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Hanging on the telephone. South Korea is reaching out to North Korea, proposing that the two countries restart bilateral talks for the first time since 2015. White House spokesman Sean Spicer threw some shade on the idea of talks with the North, telling reporters that “any type of conditions that would have to be met are clearly far away from where we are now.” Newly-elected President Moon Jae-in, however, campaigned on a platform of taking a softer line against the North, but so far Pyongyang has yet to respond to the call for talks starting on July 21st.
Real estate. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says that Moscow is close to a deal with the Trump administration to get back two diplomatic compounds following a meeting with Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon. The Obama administration seized the compounds, which American officials say are used as Russian listening posts, in retaliation for Russian interference in the 2016 election. Russia has been turning up the heat on the Trump administration to return the compounds, but any handover would face stiff opposition from Congress and the FBI.
It’s good to be the king. Yuri Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general and the man who Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya promised Donald Trump Jr. had dirt on Hillary Clinton, is known as the “king of kompromat” in Russia, according to the New York Times. Chaika is famous for having procured a video of a rival prosecutor in bed with two women for Russian television in the 1990s.
CVN Potemkin. President Trump is getting ready to commission the USS Gerald R. Ford despite the fact that the carrier won’t be ready for combat for another four years. The Government Accountability Office says that the Navy took delivery of the Ford “with a substantial amount of incomplete work” and that it will take another $780 million worth of work before it’s ready to deploy.
Cybersecurity. Federal prosecutors have charged two Iranians with hacking U.S. defense contractor Arrow Tech Associates in order to steal its weapons design software and illegally sell it within Iran.
Justice. Jordan sentences 1st Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha to life in prison for killing three American Special Forces soldiers training Syrians to fight the Islamic State.
Foreign fighters. Iraqi forces in Mosul have detained a 16 year old German girl “Linda W”, Bild’s Björn Stritzel reports. Linda traveled from Saxony to Turkey last year, crossing over into Syria in order to join the Islamic State.
Sanctions. The European Union sanctioned 16 Syrian scientists and military officers it says are “involved in chemical weapons proliferation and delivery.”
Laptop ban. You can now fly from the Middle East to the U.S. with your laptop confidently in hand as the Transportation Security Administration is officially ending the laptop ban. Saudi Arabian Airlines, the last remaining airline under the restrictions, getting the all clear from Homeland Security on Monday.
Lasers vs. drones. CNN hitches a ride aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf for a live fire test of the Laser Weapon System zapping a target drone.
Oh bother. China censors Winnie the Pooh references after Chinese netizens use Pooh as a stand-in to mock President Xi Jinping.
Clap back. “I wonder if she could say the same of him” — Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, taking issue with President Trump telling Brigette Macron, the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife, that she was in “good shape.”
Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images