The Cable

SitRep: Trump’s Secret Putin Meeting; Pentagon Gets New No. 2; NATO, Russia Square Off in War Games

  With Adam Rawnsley Trump, Putin, alone: The White House failed to disclose a second, hour-long private meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany earlier this month. And the most remarkable bit? The only other person involved was Putin’s Russian translator, a Russian government employee. No ...

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With Adam Rawnsley

Trump, Putin, alone: The White House failed to disclose a second, hour-long private meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany earlier this month. And the most remarkable bit? The only other person involved was Putin’s Russian translator, a Russian government employee. No other American official was present.

The dinner with leaders from G-20 countries was on the president’s public schedule, and press was not allowed inside. The president’s decision to leave his seat and engage the Russian leader was not planned (we think), and White House officials did not mention it until forced to on Tuesday.

And remember this bit, from the NYT: “The evening after his two meetings with Mr. Putin — the first lasting 135 minutes and the second an hour — Mr. Trump returned to Washington. On the Air Force One flight back, his top advisers helped draft a statement about a meeting his son Donald Trump Jr. attended last year with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.”

North Korea can hit the U.S. Maybe. The Pentagon’s second highest-ranking military officer, Gen. Paul Selva, told Congress Tuesday that North Korea can’t yet hit the United States with “any degree of accuracy.” The North’s missiles have the range, but not the ability to hit a specific target, he said. “What the experts tell me is that the North Koreans have yet to demonstrate the capacity to do the guidance and control that would be required,” Selva added.

NATO, Russia, China drill. Tens of thousands of troops are on the move from the Baltic to the Black Sea this month, as NATO and Russia open up a series of massive military exercises the size of which the continent hasn’t seen since the Cold War. FP’s Paul Mcleary writes that while both sides claim the drills, which involve aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery — and Chinese warships in the Baltic — are purely defensive in nature. “But it is clear the exercises are also meant to show off new capabilities and technologies, and display not only the strength of alliances, but how swiftly troops and heavy equipment can move to squash a threat at the frontier.”

Pentagon Gets new No. 2. The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Trump’s pick for the Pentagon’s second-highest ranking civilian official. The 92-7 vote confirmed former Boeing exec Patrick Shanahan to be the next Deputy Defense Secretary, the person who runs the day-to-day operations of the Defense Department. He’ll replace Bob Work, who has held the job since the Obama administration and was asked to stay on while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the White House struggled to agree on a replacement.

Four more coming. A group of White House nominees for other top Pentagon positions had an easy go of it Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee and look to be a lock for confirmation: John Gibson, nominee for deputy chief management officer; Ellen Lord, tabbed to be undersecretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics; Lucian Niemeyer, pending assistant secretary for energy, installations, and environment; and Matthew Donovan, picked for Air Force undersecretary.

Payday. The U.S. government is paying Donald Trump $130,000 a month to lease space in Trump Tower, despite the fact that Trump hasn’t spent a night in New York since January. More from the Wall Street Journal: “The military’s lease in Trump Tower puts the space far above market rate for similarly sized apartments in the luxury high rise market and makes it one of the most expensive residential rentals in Manhattan.”

Kurds make their case. Iraqi Kurds are mounting a campaign in Washington this week to rally U.S. government support for an independence bid before a referendum in September. But Baghdad opposes talk of secession, and with the United States committed to a one-Iraq policy, it’s going to be an uphill fight, FP’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports

Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Ambassador. The Trump administration is nominating Jon Huntsman, former Utah Governor and Obama administration ambassador to China, to be U.S. ambassador to Russia.

There’s always one. “Jon Huntsman called to see me. I said no, he gave away our country to China! @JonHuntsman.” — Donald Trump in 2012, tweeting his disdain for Huntsman’s service as ambassador to China.

Mass graves. Transnational Justice Working Group, a human rights NGO, released a new report pinpointing the location 40 mass graves in North Korea based on satellite imagery and defector interviews. North Korean civilians and former officials interviewed for the report said they had witnessed public executions at over 300 different sites.

Defections. North Korean defector Jeon Hye-sung has done what few North Koreans have done before — gone back to the North after living in the South. Jeon appeared in a recent North Korean propaganda video, bemoaning life in the South. But intelligence officials in South Korea believe that Jeon, who had a high profile career in television, may have been kidnapped by North Korean agents while working to help family members still in the North make it across the border into China.

Summer getaways. Forgotten to book your summer vacation yet? There’s no need to worry as North Korea’s National Tourism Administration has a new website up offering you all the information you need to take the spouse and kids for an unforgettable trip to the worker’s paradise north of the 38th parallel.

“Negative content.” China is unhappy with the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act because of provisions calling for joint exercises and training with Taiwanese forces and the U.S. military.

Malorossiya. Novorossiya, the self-declared “New Russia” proclaimed by Russia and the rebels it backs in Ukraine, is gone, replaced by the rebranded breakaway Ukrainian statelet name Malorossiya or “Little Russia.” The head of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, proclaimed the new country this week, although Russia and Malorossiya’s rebel enclave cousins in the Luhansk People’s Republic, have been notably cool to the declaration.

Game of Thrones. The New York Times has the inside scoop on how Mohammed bin Salman managed to elbow former heir to the throne Mohammed bin Nayef out of the line of succession. Mohammed bin Nayef, told that King Salman wanted to see him, was summoned to a palace in Mecca where princes stripped him of his phone and told him to give up his government post and claim to the throne while other Saudi officials spread rumors that he was addicted to pain pills prescribed to him after being wounded by an al-Qaeda suicide bomber.

Yemen. A Saudi airstrike killed 20 civilians in the village of al-Atera in Taiz province with some of the victims including women and children.

Sanctions. The Trump administration has applied new sanctions to Iran, targeting industries and individuals that support the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The sanctions come as a kind of consolation prize for the administration, which has certified Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration but is nonetheless unhappy with the agreement.

Think tanked. The American Enterprise Institute’s Katherine Zimmerman has a new report out, “The Salafi-Jihadi Movement,” arguing that the U.S. is losing the war on terror, defining its enemy too narrowly and prioritizing military action against terrorist groups to the exclusion of addressing political grievances fueling their support in Sunni communities.

 

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