- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
With Adam Rawnsley
Iran sanctions. The Trump White House is prepared to turn the heat up on existing sanctions against Iran and is weighing a much stricter interpretation of the nuclear agreement between Tehran and major world powers, FP’s Dan De Luce reports in an exclusive story.
The White House is inclined to adopt a “more rigorous application of the tools at its disposal,” a senior White House official told FP, referring to sanctions policy. Among the options under consideration: broadening U.S. sanctions to include much larger chunks of the Iranian economy linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“How President Donald Trump decides to proceed on sanctions and the nuclear deal more broadly carries high stakes for the United States, Iran, and the wider Middle East,” De Luce writes. “A concerted U.S. effort to squeeze Iran would represent a gamble that Tehran’s regional push for power, particularly in Syria and Yemen, could be checked in part by increasing economic pressure. But the approach could backfire if it causes tensions with the Islamic Republic to spin out of control or prompts Tehran to pull out of the nuclear deal.”
On the road. Vice President Mike Pence is in Tokyo, where he’s keeping up the pressure on North Korea. “All options are on the table and there they will remain,” he said on Tuesday, adding, “the most productive pathway forward is dialogue among the family of nations that can pressure and isolate North Korea into abandoning permanently” its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile program. But, he warned, “we will not rest and we will not relent until we achieve the objective of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.”
But the rhetoric doesn’t appear to be making Pyongyang back off. North Korea will continue to test missiles, a senior official told the BBC. “We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol said. He added that an “all-out war” would result if Washington took military action.
Nork missiles. Analysts are pointing out that Friday’s military parade in Pyongyang looks to have showcased several new capabilities, including a new type of Scud missile, and potentially new versions of ballistic missiles the North has been working on for several years.
Where in the world…For at least a week, we’ve all been speculating where the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group might be, after leaving a port visit in Singapore and cancelling another visit to Australia in the midst of increasing tensions with North Korea. But Defense News’ Chris Cavas has figured it out, discovering that the ships aren’t parked off the Korean coast, but rather are operating several hundred miles south of Singapore, taking part in scheduled exercises with Australian forces in the Indian Ocean.
“On Saturday – according to photographs released by the U.S. Navy – the carrier passed north through the Sunda Strait, the passage between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. It’s about 3,500 miles from Korea,” Cavas writes. And there you have it.
Here’s your interagency process. Humanitarian groups and the U.S. State Department are pushing back against a plan by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to take a key port city with help from the U.S. military, Buzzfeed reports. The Pentagon is in favor of providing more logistical support to the Gulf coalition’s plan to retake the city of Hodeida, believed to be a major hub for Iranian weapons shipment to Houthi militants in Yemen. But the State Department and aid groups have opposed the plan, saying the operation would likely take longer than the Pentagon’s estimated four to six week time frame and exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis by interfering with food and aid shipments. For more on U.S. military policy in Yemen, and what the Saudis might be looking for, check this recent story by FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce.
Mattis on the road. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is wheels up for the Middle East and North Africa, on a packed tour that’ll take him to Egypt, Qatar, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and Israel, where he’ll discuss next steps in the fight against the Islamic State and al Qaeda, and likely talk through enforcement of the Iranian nuclear deal and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
Mystery missile. We know that a North Korean missile blew up shortly after launch on Sunday, but what’s less clear is what, precisely, blew up. Anonymous sources tell Fox News that the U.S. is calling the weapon KN-17, a heretofore unknown designation for North Korean missiles. The sources tell the cable news network that the KN-17 single-stage, liquid-fueled new variant of the Scud missile, likely intended for use in an anti-ship role. Experts say the relatively new model of missile may explain the launch failure as mistakes are common early in the development process.
Un-break my heart. After their public and bitter breakup, Iraqi officials now say the Islamic State and al-Qaeda may be on the verge of getting back together. In an interview with Reuters, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi said he’s privy to information suggesting “that discussions and dialogue between messengers representing Islamic State emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and representing al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri” have taken place about a merger. The Islamic State broke off from al Qaeda in 2014, declaring the reestablishment of the caliphate and Baghdadi the one true leader of jihadists. Just how the two groups would reconcile given the competing claims of leadership remains unclear.
Nuclear posture review. The Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon’s occasional look at the nuclear arsenal and the plans to use it, is upon us. Defense News has a cheat sheet for what to look for in the latest iteration of the study. Hot topics include whether to move ahead with the prompt global strike concept, which calls for using conventional missiles to carry out the kind of fast, long-range strikes usually reserved for nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. Reviewers are also likely to whether the Air Force needs the Long Range Standoff weapon, an updated nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile that would replace the current AGM-86B nuclear cruise missile used by the B-52 bomber.
Nothingburger. A bipartisan review of Susan Rice’s use of intelligence on the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russian spies has concluded that she did nothing wrong, according to NBC News. That conclusion rebuffs President Trump’s assertion that Rice allegedly broke the law by asking the intelligence community to unmask Trump campaign staff. House intelligence committee aides, however, tell the network that they met with National Security Agency staff to review Rice’s intelligence requests and found nothing improper.
Army. An Army UH-60 Black Hawk crashed in Leonardtown, Maryland on Monday, killing one soldier and injuring two others, according to Army Times. Of the surviving soldiers, one is listed in critical condition and the other is in serious condition. The crashed Black Hawk belonged to the 12th Aviation Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
And finally. For years, many have complained that the Navy SEALs’ penchant for SEAL-branded memoirs, movies, and workout videos have left the elite unit overexposed. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, one decorated active-duty Seal has taken that penchant for overexposure to new heights, moonlighting as a porn star under the name “Jay Voom” in 29 skin flicks. Now Naval Special Warfare Command is investigating Chief Special Warfare Officer Joseph John Schmidt into whether he violated any rules with his salacious side job.
Photo Credit CHAVOSH HOMAVANDI/AFP/Getty Images