The Cable

SitRep: Putin Pines for Trump’s Attention; Mattis Reviewing Nukes

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Putin wanted to make up. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the Trump administration a sweeping proposal to reset the U.S.-Russian relationship back in April, according to documents obtained by Buzzfeed’s John Hudson. The remarkable proposal called for the two countries to cooperate on cybersecurity, Afghanistan, Iran, Ukraine, and ...

HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: In this photo provided by the German Government Press Office (BPA), Donald Trump, President of the USA (C) meets Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L) during the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration.  (Photo by BPA via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: In this photo provided by the German Government Press Office (BPA), Donald Trump, President of the USA (C) meets Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L) during the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by BPA via Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Putin wanted to make up. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the Trump administration a sweeping proposal to reset the U.S.-Russian relationship back in April, according to documents obtained by Buzzfeed’s John Hudson. The remarkable proposal called for the two countries to cooperate on cybersecurity, Afghanistan, Iran, Ukraine, and North Korea and hold a series of meetings between officials from the Pentagon, intelligence community, and National Security Council and their Russian counterparts but the Trump administration doesn’t appear to have jumped at the offer.

“In pushing its reset plan, Moscow seemed to underestimate the political blowback the Trump administration would face if it carried out a large-scale rapprochement amid high-profile investigations by the FBI and Congress into allegations of collusion with Russia.”

“Putin doesn’t seem to understand that Trump’s powers are not the same as his,” said Steven Pifer, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution. “The checks and balances, the special prosecutor and congressional investigations have tied Trump’s hands in ways that didn’t occur to Putin.”

North Korea and Congress. The prospect of a reset with Pyongyang also looks pretty remote. Following the United Nations’ stepping up sanctions on Monday, members of Congress and Trump administration officials on Tuesday tore into Pyongyang during a hearing on Capitol Hill.

“I believe the response from the United States and our allies should be supercharged,” said Rep. Ed Royce, (R-Calif.), chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. “We need to use every ounce of leverage … to put maximum pressure on this rogue regime. Time is running out.”

Showing off the nuclear hardware. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is wheels up Wednesday for Minot Air Force base in North Dakota, home to more than 100 land-based nuclear missiles and strategic bombers capable of carrying nukes. He’ll also stop in at U.S. Strategic Command in a long-planned trip that takes on new importance given Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test earlier this month.

The Trump administration is conducting a full review of its nuclear arsenal and policy, but signaled it may be ready to move out with modernization of its nukes before the review is completed. Last month, the Pentagon awarded contracts to Northrop Grumman and Boeing worth about $700 million for development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, to replace the Minuteman 3. Another $1.8 billion deal was reached with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to work on a new nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile.

Mattis goes south. As part of his trip, Mattis will become the first Pentagon chief to travel to Mexico for its Independence Day activities, a sign that White House rhetoric doesn’t drive all policy across the government. “Secretary Mattis’ visit to Mexico reaffirms our commitment to the bilateral defense relationship and to the North America community,” a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters.

The military and climate change. “The Pentagon has continued to take steps to defend its military bases against extreme weather despite direction from President Donald Trump to stop preparing for climate change,” writes the Military TImes’ Tara Copp.

In March, Trump pulled back all climate-related federal agency actions directed by President Barack Obama. But the DoD has worked around the order, and is still reviewing its climate change policies. “As Secretary Mattis has said, the department evaluates all potential threats that impact mission readiness, personnel health and installation resilience, then uses that information to assess impacts and identify responses,” a Pentagon spokesman said. “The effect of a changing climate is one of a variety of threats and risks, but it’s not a mission of the Department of Defense.”

Personnel. Former controversial Trump National Security Council senior director for intelligence programs Ezra Cohen-Watnick has landed a new job at Oracle, Just Security’s Kate Brannen writes. Cohen-Watnick, a protege of fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, repeatedly clashed with current National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster during his brief tenure at the White House, leading to his firing in August.

On the road. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David M. Satterfield is on the way to Astana, Kazakhstan to observe the next round of Astana Process talks on Syria. The State Department “remains concerned with Iran’s involvement as a so-called ‘guarantor’ of the Astana process,” the department said in a statement Tuesday. “Iran’s activities in Syria and unquestioning support for the Assad regime have perpetuated the conflict and increased the suffering of ordinary Syrians.”

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Sanctions. The United Nations unanimously passed a new round of sanctions on North Korea but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is warning China that the U.S. won’t ease up the pressure after they passed. “We will put additional sanctions on [China] and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system” if they don’t enforce the latest sanctions, Mnuchin told reporters.

Phase four. Al Monitor reporter Laura Rozen tweeted Tuesday night that she’s heard Trump administration-affiliated think tanks are working on strategies on how to deal with insurgencies in North Korea in the aftermath of a potential war.

Walkback. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is walking back her foreign minister’s comments from earlier this week suggesting that Germany would cut off arms sales to Turkey over human rights concerns. Merkel said that Germany would instead review individual arms sales rather than implementing a blanket ban, citing the need to buttress Turkey in its fight against the Islamic State.

Outsourcing. Turkey isn’t having any trouble buying weapons from Russia, though. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday that Turkey had finalized a deal to buy S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia in a deal believed to be worth up to $2.5 billion. At least one other NATO country, Greece, has bought Russian air defense system, but Turkey’s move has other members in the Atlantic alliance worried about integrating Russian equipment into air defense networks.

Spoils. Iran is reaping some of the early rewards of Syria’s reconstruction, with the Iranian company Mabna landing a $155 million contract to build power plants to bring electricity to the formerly rebel-held city of Aleppo.

Mission accomplished. “We have won in the war (in Syria),” proclaims Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Nasrallah says Hezbollah forces have largely defeated the Assad regime’s opponents, saying that the remaining fighting consists only of “scattered battles.”

Peak air power. The U.S. Air Force released more weapons last month in the wars against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State than it has in any month since 2012, dropping a total of 500 munitions in August.

Defectors. As many as 300 defectors from the Islamic State have fled the group and headed to the province of Idlib in an attempt to flee into Turkey to make it back home to Europe and other parts of the Middle East. The Guardian reports that some Saudi Islamic State defectors have paid smugglers as much as $2,000 to sneak them into Turkey.

Foreign Fighters. Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s top counterterrorism official, estimates that there are still at least 2,500 European foreign fighters in the Islamic State, down from a total of 5,000. De Kerchove says around 1,500 European foreign fighters have already returned and another thousand were killed in battle.

Sign of the times. Terrorists’ penchant for using vehicles to ram into crowded public areas has lead the U.K.’s Scotland Yard to develop the Talon, a net which can puncture the tires of heavy vehicles when spread out on the road and bring them to a safe stop.

Wiretap. Congress is willing to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act, but it also wants to curb the FBI’s authority to scour eavesdropping databases on criminal suspects and end the intelligence community’s ability to review intercepted emails. The Trump administration is asking Congress to reauthorize the act, which allows the intelligence community to collect Americans communications with foreigners without a warrant, without amendments.

Hey, Siri. British Navy first sea lord Adm Sir Philip Jones says that the service’s Type 31e frigates “will feature different app-based tools,” including a digital assistant similar to Apple’s Siri, which can be used to access the ship’s data.

Think tanked. The Small Arms Survey released a new report on the global small arms trade, assessing that the most recent data shows the business accounted for $6 billion in 2014 with the U.S., Italy, Brazil, Germany, and South Korea as the top five exporters of small arms and the U.S., Canada, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Germany as the top importers. The Survey also labeled Iran, Israel, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates as the least transparent exporters.

 

Photo Credit: BPA via Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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