The Cable

SitRep: Trump Contacts With “Hostile Intelligence Service.”

South Korea nixes Japan in U.S. war game, Iran sticking with nuke deal

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, on the platform's 10th anniversary on October 4, 2016. (Steffi Loos/AFP/Getty Images)
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, on the platform's 10th anniversary on October 4, 2016. (Steffi Loos/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

The Trumps and Wikileaks. Between September 2016 to July 2017, Wikileaks and Donald Trump, Jr. exchanged a series of private. direct messages on Twitter, The Atlantic reports, in which the site suggested that Trump push Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to Washington, and sent links to Wikileaks releases, which Trump then retweeted. In one instance, Trump’s dad Tweeted a link 15 minutes after Wikileaks sent it.

In July 2017 — the same month communications between the site and Trump Jr. stopped, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that “WikiLeaks will take down America any way they can,” and called the site a “hostile intelligence service.”

Seoul rejects Tokyo in war game. We’ve all seen the pictures of three American aircraft carriers — the USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz — operating together off the Korean coast in recent days in the largest exercise in the region of its kind since 1969. But what we haven’t seen are Japanese warships steaming alongside the 11 U.S. destroyers and seven South Korean vessels.

That’s because South Korea opposed Japanese participation in the drills, according to Nikkei, just as they rejected Japanese involvement in another exercise between U.S., South Korean and Australian ships earlier this month. Seoul is thought to be concerned over the Chinese reaction, as South Korea works to involve China in pressuring North Korea.

North Korea reacts. Even without the Japanese, North Korea isn’t happy about the whole thing. The exercise is creating “the worst ever situation prevailing in and around the Korean peninsula,” Pyongyang’s U.N. ambassador, Ja Song Nam, said in a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres. He added that the U.S. is maintaining “a surprise strike posture with frequent flights of B-1B and B-2 formations to the airspace of South Korea.”

U.S. diplomat arrives in Seoul. Washington’s Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun arrived in Seoul on Tuesday to meet with South Korean and international officials, according to the U.S. State Department, although there is no indication his visit will include talks with the North.

No nukes not so easy. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday it would be difficult for the North to destroy its nuclear arsenal quickly, even if wanted to, given how its weapons programs were developed.

There’s no fighting in the war room! For the first time in more than 40 years, lawmakers are holding a hearing Tuesday to question whether the president should have carte blanche to launch a nuclear strike. The extraordinary hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “reflects growing anxiety in Congress about President Donald Trump’s impulsive temperament, and whether he should still have the absolute authority to wage nuclear war with no outside check or restraint,” writes FP’s Dan De Luce.

Trump’s road trip. Analysis of Trump’s trip through several Asian countries this week by the NYT’s Mark Landler: “President Trump vowed this week to reclaim America’s role as a Pacific power. But as he wrapped up a marathon tour of Asia on Tuesday, Mr. Trump’s mixed messages left allies unsure of America’s staying power and fed a growing sense that China, not the United States, drives the agenda in the region.”

Who’s Where When. The Senate Armed Services Committee charges on, now that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has lifted his hold on Trump administration nominees headed for the Pentagon. There’s a hearing today at 10:00 a.m. for Anthony M. Kurta, principal deputy under secretary of defense personnel and readiness; James E. McPherson, general counsel of the Army. Livestream here.

2:00 p.m.: Christopher Ford, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Counterproliferation, “Sustaining U.S. Leadership Against Nuclear Terrorism and Proliferation,” Hudson Institute

Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan will head out on his first overseas trip Tuesday to attend the second annual U.N. Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial in Vancouver, Canada. He will also visit Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The Army’s new standards. “People with a history of ‘self-mutilation,’ bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse can now seek waivers to join the Army under an unannounced policy enacted in August,” according to documents obtained by USA TODAY.

The changes come as the service races to recruit 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018. “To meet last year’s goal of 69,000, the Army accepted more recruits who fared poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.”

ISIS escape from Raqqa. The BBC has details on deals the Syrian Democratic Forces cut with Islamic State fighters to move them out of Raqqa, as opposed to fighting it out.

Iranian compliance. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is once again affirming that Iran is complying with the terms of the Iran nuclear deal in a quarterly report despite President Trump’s decertification of Iranian compliance with the agreement. “Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime, and the IAEA has so far had access to all the locations it needed to visit in the country,” IAEA director Yukiya Amano says.

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

Mali mystery. A witness interviewed by investigators in the death of a Green Beret in Mali says his SEAL roommates were upset with him “after they felt he intentionally tried to evade them while he was driving to a party” and hid the fact that they used duct tape on him shortly before Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar asphyxiated. The SEALs told investigators, however, that Melgar died after a spirited game of horseplay.

RT, foreign agent. The Kremlin-run RT news news network has knuckled under and registered as a foreign agent with the U.S. Justice Department, with its editor in chief explaining that “between a criminal case and the registration, we have chosen the latter.” In the meantime, though, U.S. news outlets are bracing for a harsher crackdown on American news outlets in Russia hinted at by Russian authorities.

Oh, Russia, you so silly. Pro tip: don’t let your ministry of defense use a screenshot from a videogame as evidence for your accusation that the U.S. military is working with the Islamic State or everyone will laugh at you on the Internet.

Afghanistan future budget still looks bleak. “Even if security improves, the World Bank projects [Afghan security] expenditures to be at least double likely revenues by 2030” — the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, explaining that the Afghan government still won’t be able to pay its own way for at least another 13 years.

Saudi climbdown. Saudi Arabia is backing down after loudly signaling it was gearing up for a confrontation of Iran, with Saudi-led coalition authorities announcing the reopening ports in Yemen and Saudi-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announcing that he was returning to Beirut and open to political compromise with Hezbollah. The turnabout came amid mounting public criticism over the humanitarian cost of the Saudi blockade in Yemen and questions about whether Hariri was being held against his will in Saudi Arabia.

Drone downing in Israel. Israel says the drone it shot down with a Patriot missile over the weekend was operated by Syrian forces. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to the drone’s apparent crossover into Israeli airspace by saying “We hold the Syrian regime responsible for any firing or breach of sovereignty and call on it to hold back all players active in its territory.”

Syria. “The enemy hasn’t declared that they’re done with the area yet, so we’ll keep fighting as long as they want to fight” — Secretary of Defense James Mattis, hinting that U.S. forces still have work to do in fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Mattis also suggested that the U.S. will maintain its footprint in Syria after the group is defeated in order to backstop peace talks among locals with the Assad regime.

Mynamar. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called out Myanmar for its treatment of Rohingya Muslim minorities in front of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during this week’s ASEAN meeting, labeling the crackdown against Rohingya it a “worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy and a potential source of instability in the region, and radicalization.”

HIMARS to Afghanistan. A Marine Corps task force is bringing the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in order to increase U.S. firepower in the region. U.S. forces have used the HIMARS system against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria and its deployment to Afghanistan follows word from the Defense Department that the U.S. will be redeploying more equipment from the Islamic State fight in those countries to Afghanistan.

 

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

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