The Cable

SitRep: North Korea Preparing New Nuke Test?; More Diplomats Flee State Dept.

  With Adam Rawnsley NEW: “North Korea kept up its bellicose rhetoric against the United States on Monday as South Korean officials said Pyongyang may be preparing its sixth nuclear weapon test. Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told South Korean lawmakers at a closed door parliamentary session that it has detected signs of North Korea ...

This undated photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 26, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) presiding over a target strike exercise conducted by the special operation forces of the Korean People's Army (KPA) at an undisclosed location.
North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles on August 26, the US military said, following weeks of heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT   ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP.  /         (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This undated photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 26, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) presiding over a target strike exercise conducted by the special operation forces of the Korean People's Army (KPA) at an undisclosed location. North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles on August 26, the US military said, following weeks of heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

 

With Adam Rawnsley

NEW: “North Korea kept up its bellicose rhetoric against the United States on Monday as South Korean officials said Pyongyang may be preparing its sixth nuclear weapon test.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told South Korean lawmakers at a closed door parliamentary session that it has detected signs of North Korea preparing for another nuclear test at its Punggye-ri underground test site.” More from CNN.

The reports come after Friday’s launch of three short-range ballistic missiles from North Korea’s  east coast into the sea. Two of the missiles flew about 150 miles while the other one appears to have blown up almost immediately.

Foggy Bottom exodus continues. The top State Department envoy for overseeing U.S. policy at the United Nations and other international organizations stepped down from her post Friday, FP’s Colum Lynch tells us in an exclusive.  

The resignation of Tracey Ann Jacobson comes just three weeks before President Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver his first address before world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly’s annual debate, and continues to steady exodus of experienced officials from the State Department under Rex Tillerson. More:

“Jacobson’s announcement came on the same day that William Rivington Brownfield, who has been serving as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs since January 10, 2011, told his department that he would also step down by the end of September. It comes about four months after his wife, Kristie Kenney, on of the most senior foreign service officers in the State Department, announced her resignation.”

Quotes of the day. “The president speaks for himself” — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, declining to support President Trump’s comments after Fox News‘s Chris Wallace pressed him about the the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s condemnation of Trump’s statement praising “very nice people” at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Relations between Tillerson and Trump are reportedly at a low point, with Axios citing anonymous White House officials claiming that the president is “growing increasingly frustrated with his Secretary of State.”

Mattis, too. Tillerson’s comments came around the same time a video began making the rounds of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis telling deployed troops to “hold the line” while the United States fumbles its way through social upheaval at home.

“Our country right now, it’s got problems we don’t have in the military,” Mattis said. “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.” It’s not clear when the video was made, but Mattis just traveled to Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Ukraine.

Transgender rules. Mattis spoke just before President Donald Trump on Friday directed the military to scrap plans to allow transgender individuals to join the armed forces.

The memorandum also bans the Department of Defense from providing medical treatment for transgender individuals currently serving in the military. The president also directed the departments of Defense and Homeland Security “to determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving based on military effectiveness and lethality, unitary cohesion, budgetary constraints, applicable law, and all factors that may be relevant,” a White House official told reporters. It is unclear if the White House also expects the armed services to kick out currently serving transgender servicemembers.

The move has caused an outcry among advocacy groups, and Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.) called it a “step in the wrong direction.”

Iraqi forces taking Tal Afar. After just a week of fighting, Iraqi security forces appear ready to retake the Islamic State-held city of Tal Afar, surprising just about everyone, who expected a month-long fight.

The new Hezbollah. From the NYT: Hezbollah has always maintained its focus on Israel, but in recent years, upheavals in the Middle East have allowed the group to shift its focus outward, pushing fighters and their long experience into other countries, and other conflict, important to its Iranian benefactors.

The group “has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere. As a result, Hezbollah is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran.”

Invisible weapons. In the wake of U.S. diplomats report hearing loss and other health issues after being the victims of suspected sonic attacks while serving in Cuba in recent months, FP’s Sharon Weinberger runs down the history of “invisible weapons.”

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

Call of Duty: Yankee Hunting. North Korea has released a new propaganda video game, a first person shooter dubbed “Hunting Yankee” in which users can fight and kill U.S. troops. North Korean state-run news describes the game as “popular among youth students and workers.”

Rain on your parade. North Korea is trolling the joint U.S.-South Korean Ulchi-Freedom military exercises by dropping propaganda leaflets extolling the virtues of its new Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Zapad. Russia is gearing up for its massive Zapad military exercises in Belarus and Kaliningrad next month but European countries are getting nervous about the drills, fearing they could be cover for Russian military mobilization to strike one of its neighbors. U.S. Army Europe commander Gen. Ben Hodges has already called the exercise a potential “trojan horse” and now Ukraine’s national security council is warning that the event could be used for an invasion of Baltic countries.

Pause button. Pakistan is putting a visit from Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Asian Affairs Patricia Wells on hold after his speech on Afghanistan strategy singled out Pakistan for supporting militants. The U.S. embassy in Pakistan said in a statement that the visit was “postponed until a mutually convenient time” but didn’t say why Pakistan suddenly found the visit inconvenient.

Propaganda. It’s not quite Cher dancing on the deck of the USS Missouri but Amir Tataloo’s rap video is Iran’s latest attempt to infuse propaganda with pop culture cool. The video, featuring Tataloo aboard the Damavand frigate extolling Iranian military’s right to patrol the Persian Gulf, is part of a wave of efforts, including Hamed Zamani’s nu metal paen to Iran’s fight against the Islamic State, that Iranian rulers are hoping can connect patriotism to Iran’s younger generation.

Certification. The latest 90 day certification of Iranian compliance with the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement is creeping up on the Trump administration and officials are trying to figure out ways to reject certification of Iranian compliance without scrapping the deal entirely. The Trump White House is currently mulling a plan to reject certification and kick the decision to re-impose sanctions — effectively ending the agreement — over to Congress, but congressional Republicans aren’t eager to take up the issue. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said late Sunday that Iran would still abide by the terms of the nuclear deal if the U.S. withdrew but the other parties — France, Germany, the U.K., China, and Russia — stuck to the agreement.

Truce. There’s a pause in the fight against the Islamic State by the Lebanese border but it’s unclear whether that’s due to the group’s surrender or a . Both the Lebanese military and Hezbollah announced a break in the fighting but offered differing reasons. Lebanese authorities said they negotiated a truce in order to recover the bodies of Lebanese troops but Hezbollah said Islamic State fighters had surrendered to it and agreed to help in the search for the military’s dead.

Pilot shortage. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is sounding the alarm about the Air Force’s continuing pilot shortage after a trip to the U.S. air base in Qatar. Wilson has tasked Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski to lead a recruitment and retention task force and signed off on a new incentives for pilots, but the pilot crunch is about to get worse as President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy calls for increases in air strikes.

Reintegration. Having given up its arms as part of a peace deal with the Colombian government, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) now seeks a new life as a political party. “We are transforming the FARC into a new, exclusively political organization,” leader Rodrigo Londono told supporters at a party congress meant to select candidates for an upcoming election.

 

Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

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