SitRep: Exclusive: Kushner Leaning on Allies; Ex-Trumper Manafort’s Plans for Putin; Tillerson Didn’t Want SecState
ISIS Summit Hits D.C.; North Korea Launches Another Missile; Russians Down in Syria; Israel prepares for Evacuations; And Lots More
With Adam Rawnsley
First man. “President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin” a decade ago, the AP’s Jeff Horowitz and Chad Day report.
Manafort pitched a plan to the Kremlin around 2005 “that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government,” the story states, quoting a Manafort memo directly: “we are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success.” Manafort managed Trump’s presidential campaign from June to August last year, but was on the Trump team for months before that.
Exclusive. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and principal Middle East advisor, Jared Kushner, tried but failed to get Britain to scuttle a U.N. resolution denouncing Israeli settlements even before Trump took office, FP’s Colum Lynch reports in an exclusive get.
His outreach was part of a broader effort to derail the resolution vote “but Kushner’s intervention provided an early test of the neophyte’s attempt to wade into a Middle East morass that has bedeviled professional diplomats for decades. It also provided further insights into a rare effort by an incoming administration to press America’s closest ally to break ranks with a sitting American president.”
Lynch spoke with former Obama administration officials who were angered by the incoming administration’s efforts to shift policy before they entered office, writing that Washington “began to notice that Britain was becoming an obstacle on other fronts, delaying action on a U.S.-backed resolution threatening sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons.”
“This was starting to happen more and more,” recalled one former senior U.S. official, who claimed the British were coordinating with Trump’s team. “It was a strange experience, it was quite unusual during an American transition to have close allies blatantly tell you they need to consult with the new administration.”
Not how they planned it. The first interview with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is out, and it’s a doozy. Tillerson tells Erin McPike of the Independent Journal Review that “I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” but his wife convinced him that “God’s not through with you.” He said that he and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are working hard to forge a consensus on policy issues with regard to the Islamic State and other global problems. But while he has accepted the drastic budget cuts the White House has penciled in for the State Department, he doesn’t have any plans for where the cuts will hit, or how. “We haven’t gotten that far yet,” he said.
Meet and greet. Tillerson is back from his swing through Asia and will host the 68 members of the anti-Islamic State alliance Wednesday and Thursday at the State Department. The group includes all of the major NATO allies, and the meeting may be his only significant NATO exposure for some time. He’ll likely skip a NATO summit next month in Brussels in favor of heading to Trump’s for-profit Mar-a-Lago resort for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, followed by a trip to Moscow. FP’s Robbie Gramer has more on the waves this is causing in NATO capitals.
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Tests. North Korea has, yet again, tested another missile, firing it off from the country’s east coast on Tuesday evening. CNN reports that, while we don’t know what kind of missile it was, the U.S. believes that the test was a failure. The U.S. Pacific Command said that the missile blew up just seconds after launching. Tuesday’s failed launch follows a recent missile engine test by North Korea as well as the launch of four intermediate-range ballistic missiles, three of which landed in the Sea of Japan.
Sanctions. North Korea’s deputy ambassador at its U.N. Mission in Geneva tells Reuters that Pyongyang is rushing to build a “pre-emptive first strike capability” and a an inter-continental ballistic missile. Choe Myong Nam told the wire service that the North isn’t phased by U.S. attempts to sanction it in response to recent provocative acts, saying “We of course are not afraid of any act like that.”
Casualties. Investigations of Russian casualties in Syria by Reuters and the Conflict Intelligence Team investigative group finds that Moscow has suffered more than three times more casualties than it has admitted to in public. Russia has publicly announced the deaths of its citizens in Syria since the end of January, when the Islamic State recaptured the city of Palmyra but evidence shows at least 18 Russians have died in combat since then. Russian private military contractors account for 11 of those casualties, with five troop deaths admitted by Russia’s defense ministry and the deaths of two Russian troops passing unremarked upon.
Shocker. Believe it or not, the U.S. Air Force is a big proponent of upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The New York Times reports on a recent speech by Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, in which he calls for a revamp of the nuclear arsenal in response to a “much more aggressive” Russia. Weintstein says the U.S. arsenal is dated, with its last update taking place in the 1980s. Like other U.S. officials, he has also has accused Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
Delete your account. Twitter has been busy suspending terrorism-related accounts, killing around 376,000 of them in the latter half of 2016, according to Recode. The figure represents a dramatic increase over a similar period in 2015, when the social media company suspended 125,000 accounts. Twitter briefly served as a popular platform for Islamic State fans to post propaganda, earning the company a criticism from lawmakers and others concerned about its hosting of terrorist content.
Evacuation. Israel is girding for the possibility that war with either or Hamas or Hezbollah may be on the horizon, drawing up plans for its communities near the borders with Gaza and Lebanon to practice evacuating to safer areas. The AP reports that the evacuation envisioned by the plans would be Israel’s largest ever, with those fleeing war-hit areas taking residence in whatever housing is available, including hotels and schools. The move comes amid increasing fears of a war between Israel and Hezbollah, with Israel growing increasingly wary of Iranian and Syrian arms transfers to the group.
Get it together, Eli. Jeopardy contestant and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Eli Rosenberger whiffs on a question about when the service was founded — on the Navy’s birthday.