The Cable

SitRep: Trump to Decertify Iran, Punt the Rest to Congress

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Trump punts Iran decision to Congress. President Trump is scheduled to  speak this afternoon to declare he will not certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. In doing so, he’ll ignore the assessment of every major U.S. ally, a host of international monitors, his own secretaries of State and ...

The new Iranian long range missile Khoramshahr on  display during a military parade on September 22, 2017. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
The new Iranian long range missile Khoramshahr on display during a military parade on September 22, 2017. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Trump punts Iran decision to Congress. President Trump is scheduled to  speak this afternoon to declare he will not certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. In doing so, he’ll ignore the assessment of every major U.S. ally, a host of international monitors, his own secretaries of State and Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and U.S. intelligence agencies who have said without equivocation that Tehran remains in compliance with the 2015 accord.

But Washington won’t pull out of the deal, as Trump promised to do on the campaign trail last year. Instead, Trump will shift responsibility to Congress to come up with a set of guidelines under which the United States could reimpose sanctions on Iran.

New Iran strategy. On Friday morning, the White House emailed reporters that “the new Iran strategy focuses on neutralizing the Government of Iran’s destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants.” The statement added, “the previous Administration’s myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities allowed Iran’s influence in the region to reach a high-water mark.”

What about North Korean nukes? White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called the North Korean nuclear and missile threat “manageable” on Thursday, adding however that the North has developed a “pretty good” intercontinental ballistic missile capability and continues to work on improving its nuclear re-entry vehicle. But that’s where Washington draws the line. “I think I speak for the administration, that that state can simply not have the ability to reach the homeland,” Kelly said.

New ships to Pacific. The Navy Times reports that the U.S. Navy is beefing up its ship-based anti-ballistic missile capability in the region, however. The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey will deploy on Oct. 16 as the Navy scrambles to make up for the recent losses of the USS McCain and Fitzgerald due to accidents.

“Monterey will leave on a previously unscheduled deployment to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas to conduct maritime security operations,” Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson told the outlet. “This deployment will allow the Hawaii-based destroyer O‘Kane to deploy to 7th Fleet to provide more BMD-capable ships in the region,” she said, referring to ships with ballistic-missile defense systems.

Iranian bombs back in Iraq. A roadside bomb that killed an American soldier in Iraq earlier this month “was of a particularly lethal design not seen in six years, and its reappearance on the battlefield suggests that U.S. troops could again be facing a threat that bedeviled them at the height of the insurgency here,” U.S. military officials told the Washington Post’s Kareem Fahim and Liz Sly. The bomb was an explosively formed penetrator, or EFP, which can rip through armor and U.S. officials traced back to Iran during the height of the U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Hybrid war. Latvian and Norwegian authorities are concerned recent power outages are the result of Russian hacks, FP contributor reid Standish reports from Riga.

The worries are “a reflection of the growing array of hybrid war capabilities in Russia’s arsenal — from the use of disinformation and propaganda to sow internal discord within a country, to crippling cyberattacks, to old-fashioned military power. Those capabilities have been honed in recent years in the Russian campaigns in Ukraine and Syria. But the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and their Nordic neighbors, have increasingly become a testing ground.”

Niger, and Washington’s long war in Africa. American officials suspect the attack on American and Nigerien forces last week was the work of a new group of West African militants loosely affiliated with the Islamic State.

“We believe it’s some sort of ISIS affiliate with the group that we are talking about there, and we’re still looking into the specific details of that,” Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, said at the Pentagon Thursday. “You can’t prevent local franchises – self-enabled radicalization, but we’re going to continue to work at that.”

FP recently charted the growing U.S. footprint in Africa, including thousands of troops, new drone bases and small special operations outposts.

And there’s more from Politico here on the shadow war being waged against a list of extremist groups.

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

Freed. Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle, an American woman and her Canadian husband held hostage by the Taliban after being kidnapped in Afghanistan, have been released along with their three children born in captivity. Pakistani officials, acting on a tipoff from American intelligence, freed the couple and their children following a short firefight with their captors in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the young family are now headed back to Canada.

Diplo boycott. The United Arab Emirates is joining the growing diplomatic boycott of North Korea, announcing that it will stop issuing new visas to North Korean citizens. Gulf countries like the UAE have been a source of remittances for Pyongyang, with roughly 1,500 of its citizens working in the country and kicking up part of their salaries to the North Korean government.

CNC Missile Factory. Homemade Computer Numerical Control or CNC machines have been key to North Korea’s ability to manufacture ballistic missiles, according to a Reuters investigation. North Korea has imported the machines from Russia and China, first acquiring one in the 1990s and later importing one from China before learning to reverse engineer and manufacture the devices themselves.

Trumpachu, I choose you. The Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency troll farm used the popular Pokémon Go game app in its quest to stoke domestic political divisions within the United States, according to CNN. The cable news channel discovered the propaganda outlet creating a fake Black Lives Matter spinoff group called Don’t Shoot Us, which encouraged users to play Pokémon Go at the scene of alleged police brutality incidents and name Pokémon after the victims of police shootings.

Russia. Russia may deploy more missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads into the Baltics, according to a Russian member of parliament. Retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, head of the State Duma Defense Committee, says Russia is considering sending more Iskander short range ballistic missiles to the Russian enclave in Kaliningrad in response to the U.S. military buildup in Poland.

Iraq. Iraqi and Kurdish forces are squaring off outside the disputed city of Kirkuk as tensions rise over the Kurdistan Regional Government’s recent independence referendum. The buildup of troops from Iraq’s central government outside the oil-rich city prompted Kurdish Vice President Kosrat Rasul to order reinforcement of Peshmerga forces outside Kirkuk, but a Kurdish general says Peshmerga have since moved away from their positions southwest of the city, allowing Iraqi central government forces to occupy them.

Palestinian reconciliation. Palestinian political parties Hamas and Fatah have buried the hatchet and signed a reconciliation deal in Egypt midwifed by Egyptian intelligence. The deal offers Fatah the ability to negotiate with Israel on behalf of a unified Palestinian political voice and takes the increasingly difficult governance of Gaza out of the hands of Hamas, which found it cumbersome.

Foreign fighters. Two American foreign fighters who joined up to fight the Islamic State alongside the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are now being detained by fighters from the group. Kevin Howard and Taylor Hudson asked American Special Forces soldiers at a U.S. base in Syria to help them leave the country but the troops, frustrated by their presence, refused to help. The two have since been detained by the Syriac Military Council, a group under the SDF umbrella, which says it is “working with [the two Americans] to assist them to leave Syria and later to join their country.”

Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia announced its interest in purchasing Russian S-400 air defense missiles during King Salman’s historic visit to Moscow and now Russian officials say the two countries are close to signing a deal. Putin aide Vladimir Kozhin tells the Russian press that “The talks are ongoing now, the terms are being agreed” and that a deal could be finalized in the near future.

Sonic attack. We finally know what the “sonic attacks” on American diplomats in Cuba sound like thanks to a recording of one obtained by the AP. The recording, currently under study by the U.S. Navy, revealed a high-pitched, pulsing chirping sound, which diplomats affected by the sound say is consistent with what they heard when under attack in Havana.

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

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