The Cable

SitRep: Iran Deal Drama From The Pentagon To The White House

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Iran deal movement. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a Senate panel Tuesday that the United States should stay in the deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. “If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine ...

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford before Senate Armed Services Committee. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford before Senate Armed Services Committee. Alex Wong/Getty Images

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Iran deal movement. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a Senate panel Tuesday that the United States should stay in the deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it,” Mattis told senators. Asked whether he thought staying in the deal was in the U.S. national security interest, he replied: “Yes, senator, I do.”

The Los Angeles Times adds that administration officials believe that threat to decertify “could give them leverage to press European allies to help fix what they see as weaknesses in the accord by negotiating new amendments with Iran. Within the administration, that strategy is being called ‘decertify and fix.’”

Stay tuned for more on this later today from FP.

Change in rules of engagement. Mattis also confirmed that he has changed how U.S. pilots operate in Afghanistan, allowing them to strike Taliban and other groups even when they’re not firing on U.S. forces. “We are no longer bound by the need for proximity to our forces,” Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee in the afternoon. “It used to be we have to basically be in contact with that enemy.”

Pentagon trying to keep secrets. Mattis said again he would refuse to disclose to the American people how many of their fellow citizens are being deployed to combat, however, claiming it would help the Taliban.

“Neither Mattis nor Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also testified, explained just how public deployment numbers might help the Taliban,” writes FP’s Paul McLeary. Besides, “local news reports detailing troop deployments from U.S. Army bases to Afghanistan are widely available; those reports suggest about 2,700 U.S. soldiers have already deployed, or will soon deploy, as part of the latest surge.”

In a related bit, the U.S. Air Force may deploy a new, light attack plane to Afghanistan last year, FP reports.

McCain holding the cards. There are still plenty of empty desks at the highest levels of the Pentagon, and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said it’ll stay that way until his Senate Armed Services Committee gets more information from Mattis about U.S. war plans in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

More Russian contacts. New one from FP’s Elias Groll: “Rep. Dana Rohrabacher met with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya during a 2016 trip to Moscow, a previously undisclosed tête-à-tête that sheds additional light on the extent to which Moscow-based political operatives sought to influence American officials in the run-up to last year’s presidential election.”

Veselnitskaya disclosed the meeting in an interview with a pro-Russian Crimean news service, where she said she met with Rohrabacher — a California Republican and arguably the most prominent advocate in Congress for closer relations between Washington and Moscow — in April 2016 to discuss issues surrounding the Magnitsky Act, the punitive American sanctions measure responding to Russian human rights abuses that she has lobbied against.

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

Fugitive. A Washington think tank cancelled a planned talk by a fugitive Chinese businessman Guo Wengui currently wanted by Chinese authorities on fraud charges. Guo tells the Wall Street Journal that he had planned to discuss allegations of high level corruption within China’s ruling Communist Party at the Hudson Institute even but that Hudson representatives backed out at the last minute, calling the event “poorly-timed.”

Concur. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s interim conclusions about Russian interference in the 2016 election probably won’t look much different from the assessments already released by the intelligence community after the election, according to the Washington Post. Committee chairmen Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) will provide a status report on the committee’s work on Wednesday, where they’re expected to share in the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in and sought to sway the 2016 presidential election.

Swing state. The Russian propaganda company that ran divisive political ads on Facebook during the 2016 campaign targeted voters living in Wisconsin and Michigan, two states that helped President Trump carry the election. The selection of critical midwestern swing states suggests that the Russian ad purchasers were trying to influence the presidential election specifically rather than merely sow political divisions in the United States generally.

Landlord issues. Russia and the U.S. are once again in mid-tiff over a consulate, arguing over the characterization of an American inspection of the Russian consulate ordered closed in a series of tit-for-tat diplomatic retaliations following the 2016 election. Russia says that the inspection performed by 20 American officials as an “intrusion” and “a gross violation of international law” while the State Department says it was simply making sure Russian diplomats had complied with the order to close the facility.

The preferred nomenclature. The Pentagon’s new Afghanistan strategy comes with a new acronym to add to the Defense Department’s Babel-esque tower of capital letter clusters. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services, Defense Secretary James Mattis characterized the Trump administration’s Afghanistan strategy as “R4+S” or “regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile and sustain.”

Syria. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Russian President Vladimir Putin have all but declared victory in the Syrian Civil War and now Israel is weighing in on the subject, calling it for the Assad regime as well. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Assad is “winning,” predicting that there will be a “long international queue lining up to woo Assad, include Western nations, including moderate Sunnis.”

Captured. The Islamic State released a video of two alleged Russian nationals it says were serving as Russian military troops in Syria. The terrorist group claims the men were captured during an offensive in the desert of Homs Province but Russia’s Defense Ministry denied the claims, saying no Russian military servicemembers have been captured in Syria.  

Idlib. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says his country is trying to establish a deescalation zone in the rebel enclave of Syria’s Idlib’s province by cutting side deals with moderate rebel groups who may be more amenable to reconciliation than the hardline al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which runs the province. A rebel source tells Reuters that Turkey has already been trying to put pressure on HTS by carrying out “intelligence operations” to undermine popular support for the group and mulling the prospect of assassinations of the group’s members.

Talabani. Former Iraqi President and veteran Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani died in a hospital in Berlin on Wednesday from a brain hemorrhage. Talabani served as president of Iraq from 2005 to 2014 and often acted as a diplomatic, stabilizing force in Iraqi politics despite his aspirations for eventual independence for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

About your Yahoo email. On Tuesday, Yahoo admitted that a whopping 3 billion accounts — every Yahoo user account then in existence — were compromised in a 2013 hack. Prosecutors have charged four Russian nationals, including two alleged members of Russia’s intelligence services, with the 2014 hack and some cybersecurity researchers believe that Russian-linked hackers may have been responsible for the 2013 breach.

Expulsions. As expected, the State Department expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the Cuban embassy in Washington in retaliation for a series of “sonic attacks” that have caused brain injuries and hearing loss among American diplomats in Havana. Cuban Foreign Minister Rodríguez Parrilla denounced the move, saying “Cuba has never perpetrated, nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any sort against diplomatic officials or their relatives,”

Good doggie. It is with heavy hearts that we bring you the news of the passing of Cpl. Legend, the bulldog that has served as official mascot of Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. Funeral services for Cpl. Legend will be held on October 13.

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

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