SitRep: Trump Embracing Obama’s Foreign Policy; New ISIS War Plan; Obama Advisor Disputes WH on Yemen Raid
SecDef Blasts North Korea; Sanctions, Sanctions Everywhere!; And Lots More
Up is downism. In a series of unexpected moves, the Trump administration on Thursday called on Israel to halt the expansion of settlements, and slammed Russia for its war in eastern Ukraine. Less surprising, but still notable, are the new sanctions the White House says it’ll slap on Iran — while ditching any talk of “tearing up” the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal negotiated by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, a staple of President Trump’s campaign stump speeches.
“After promising a radical break with the foreign policy of Barack Obama,” the New York Times’ Mark Landler, Peter Baker, and David E. Sanger note in the paper this morning, Trump “is embracing some key pillars of the former administration’s strategy,” at least partially. The muted statement on Israel came as the biggest surprise, and came just after Trump met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the National Prayer Breakfast, which put him in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to come to Washington on Feb. 15.
Russia. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley took the lead on the new tough Russia talk, pouring cold water on hints that the Trump administration is planning to repeal sanctions placed on Moscow for its invasion and annexation of Crimea. On Thursday, Haley told the U.N. that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine and that “Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.” Haley also addressed the growing violence in eastern Ukraine, saying there needs to be “clear and strong condemnation” of Russia’s role in the conflict.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is calling on Trump to send lethal weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces, something Obama refused to do, ignoring many on the Hill and in his own administration. In a letter to Trump, McCain said the new Russian attacks in Ukraine began the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin “talked with you by phone and [he] is moving quickly to test you as commander-in-chief. America’s response will have lasting consequences.”
Raqqa remix. The Obama administration worked for months on a plan to arm Kurdish and Syrian rebel forces to assault Raqqa, but the Trump team has tossed those plans aside, considering the plans “poor staff work,” one Trump insider told the Washington Post’s Adam Entous, Greg Jaffe, and Missy Ryan.
The thorny policy issues the Obama team agonized over for months are slated to be addressed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in 30 days when he hands the White House a new ISIS war plan — and Trump has told the team to deliver multiple options and to ignore the restrictions on troop numbers and civilian casualties put in place by Obama. “The message to the Pentagon was to widen the aperture,” the administration official tole the paper. “Give us all of your options.”
Assault plan. One plan that is very much a matter for debate is the one Trump approved for the Navy SEAL raid on an al Qaeda camp in Yemen this week that left one SEAL dead, six injured, and, as Yemeni officials claim, 16 civilians dead. The White House has said the president signed off on a Centcom plan tweaked and approved by the Obama team and handed over. But former Obama official Colin Kahl says that story isn’t true. The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe sums it up, reporting that Kahl insists the previous administration had handed over broad authorities that the raid would fall under, but not a specific plan for the assault itself.
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Senators are trying to clean up the fallout from President Trump’s berating of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Republican chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), as well as Senate Armed Services ranking member Sen Jack Reed (D-RI) each called Australian ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey to offer their support for the U.S.-Australian relationship, which has seen American and Australian troops fight together dating back to World War I. The Trump administration, however, is sending mixed signals about the call, with Trump bemoaning being “taken advantage” of by other countries early Thursday, later saying “we’ll see what happens” to the immigration deal between the two countries which triggered Trump’s anger.
Defense Secretary James Mattis is in South Korea to try and reassure Seoul of America’s commitment to its security. Mattis addressed the controversy over the joint decision to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in response to North Korean ballistic missile development. In a veiled reference to China’s concerns that THAAD radar could be used to look into Chinese territory, Mattis said “There’s no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea.” Mattis was more direct addressing North Korea, saying that if Pyongyang used nuclear weapons against the U.S. or its allies, it “would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.”
There’s yet more palace intrigue in the Hermit Kingdom as the head of the country’s State Security Department has been kicked out of office. Reuters reports that department head Kim Won Hong, a top aide to Kim Jong Un, was fired in January. The reasons for the dismissal are unclear but a spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry says the firing could’ve come as a result of continuing purges that began after Kim Jong Un took over the country’s leadership following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
Thursday was a big day for sanctions curveballs related to Russia as the world searches for clues about how far the Trump administration is willing to go to reset relations with Moscow.
In the afternoon, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control quietly put up a notice clarifying that obtaining licenses to sell some technology products from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) would not violate sanctions put in place against the security service by President Obama for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The move, as Lawfare’s Samuel Cutler explains, was a boring technical move designed to clarify that American technology companies paying license fees to the FSB’s customs and border departments weren’t violating the sanctions. FP’s Elias Groll and Robbie Gramer have lots more on the confusion here. Some, like House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) nonetheless characterized the announcement as “staggeringly dangerous” lifting of sanctions.
Rex Tillerson made his first appearance at the State Department as secretary of state, hoping to reassure diplomats in the face of mounting doubts about American immigration policy. Voice of America reports that Tillerson spoke to State Department staff, telling them that they can’t let “personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team,” but that honesty would become the foundation of foreign policy and “the basis of how we interact with each other.” Meanwhile, over one thousand diplomats in recent days have signed a memo objecting to Trump’s travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries via the department’s Dissent Channel.
Business of defense
Lockheed Martin has hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, according to Bloomberg. The news outlet reports that the defense contractor hired Lewandowski to help smooth out relations with the Trump White House following the president’s tweeted demands to shave money off the cost of the stealth jet, the price of which has grown since it was first proposed. Trump claimed to have reached a deal with Lockheed to cut $600 million of the price tag of the plane but that figure also aligns with a six to seven percent drop in the F-35’s expected costs predicted by program manager Chris Bogdan in 2016.
Photo Credit: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
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