SitRep: No Answers on North Korea, But Tensions Increase
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Seoul and Moscow talk Pyongyang. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Russian President Vladimir Putin met Wednesday during a conference in Vladivostok, Russia. While the two men agreed a nuclear North Korea is a threat, they have very different views on how to handle it. Moon said that ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Seoul and Moscow talk Pyongyang. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Russian President Vladimir Putin met Wednesday during a conference in Vladivostok, Russia. While the two men agreed a nuclear North Korea is a threat, they have very different views on how to handle it. Moon said that now is not the time for talks with Pyongyang, and supports cutting off all oil shipments to the isolated country.
But Putin isn’t so sure.
“But the situation on the Korean Peninsula cannot be resolved with sanctions and pressure only. We do not need to react emotionally and corner North Korea into a dead end,” Putin said, suggesting the two countries enter into talks without preconditions, according to a report in South Korea’s Yonhap. Putin also rejected Moon’s call to stop oil shipments to the North.
Where’s Rex? One official who hasn’t made his views known is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who stayed quiet all weekend during the latest crisis with Pyongyang. Jumping into the void is U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who in many ways has acted as the nation’s de facto top diplomat since Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test on Sunday.
“Haley is also making news on U.S. policy toward Iran,” writes FP’s Robbie Gramer and Dan De Luce. In a speech before the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington on Tuesday, “Haley gave the most detailed account yet of how the administration views the Iran nuclear agreement, arguing that there were grounds for the president to declare the deal was not in America’s interests.”
Iran deal. In many ways, the plan is to make Congress make the final call on Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, a tactic that a weakened president Trump appears to favor more as he has proven to be an ineffective dealmaker on Capitol Hill. Haley said Tuesday that the deal has the effect of allowing Iran to become the new North Korea.
Pyongyang doesn’t care about your feelings. Chinese president, Xi Jinping, likely views North Korea’s latest nuclear test is a slap in the face. FP contributor William Tobey writes:
“Xi styles himself as the strongest Chinese leader since Mao, but Kim Jong Un has humiliated him repeatedly, for example by killing Kim family members who were close to Beijing. In the latest affront, North Korea’s sixth, and by far largest, nuclear test upstages a BRICS summit meeting Xi is hosting, and comes just before next month’s crucial Chinese Communist Party Congress, where he hopes to consolidate further his hold on the country. The specter of nuclear chaos is hardly consistent with the image of control that he seeks to project.”
President Trump is set to speak by phone with Xi Wednesday morning.
Radioactive. Meanwhile, China and South Korea are ramping up monitoring of radioactive fallout from North Korea’s nuclear test, fearing public outcry if radiation drifts over their borders. Sunday’s underground tests caused several large landslides, satellite images show, but there’s no evidence of a crater, which would leak radioactive material.
ISIS stuck. There are still 11 buses filled with Islamic State fighters and their families stuck in the Syrian desert, blocked from entering an ISIS stronghold in the eastern part of the country by U.S. warplanes.
And American aircraft have been picking off Islamic State fighters in ones and twos as they stray from the convoy in attempts to escape — or look for some privacy to relieve themselves, defense officials tell FP’s Paul McLeary. At least 40 Islamic State vehicles have been hit by U.S. airstrikes in recent days as they try and resupply the convoy, although U.S. planes have been allowing vehicles from Syrian-controlled areas to reach the busses with food and water.
Back on. The U.S. and Egypt are moving to patch up the rift that opened up between the two countries in the wake of the Arab Spring, rescheduling the annual Bright Star joint exercises for the first time since 2011. Egypt finally confirmed that the exercise will kick off later this month, something FP’s Paul McLeary first reported in August. The U.S. halted the long-running exercises after mass protests in Egypt that ultimately toppled the government of President Hosni Mubarak, but the exercises are now set to kick off on September 10.
Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Playing telephone. Did President Trump bring up new weapons sales to South Korea and Japan in his phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in? It depends on who you ask. The White House says Trump discussed “conceptual approval for the purchase of many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment” with Moon. But an anonymous aide to President Moon says claims Trump didn’t talk about weapons sales on the call.
The thought that counts. North Korea says it has “more gift packages” in store for the U.S. following its test of an apparent thermonuclear weapon last week.
La faucheuse. France is about to become one of the few countries to fly armed American MQ-9 Reaper drones. French Defense Minister Florence Parly says Paris will arm a half dozen American-bought drones for use in France’s war against Islamist militants in the Sahel region of West Africa.
Always a bridesmaid. Asked about whether President Trump should be impeached by the U.S. Congress, Russian President Vladimir Putin demurred, saying President Trump is “not my bride, and I am not his groom.”
Rohingya crisis. Myanmar’s persecution of its Rohingya Muslim minority is stirring a backlash in Islamic countries, particularly those in Southeast and South Asia. Leaders and diplomats from Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have spoken out against the violence driving tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee Myanmar.
Landmines. In the meantime, Myanmar has been mining its border with Bangladesh where two children have already been injured by the weapons. Rohingya refugees have been fleeing across the Bangladeshi border to escape the Myanmar military crackdown in Rakhine State, and Bangladesh plans to protest the mining activity along the border.
Syria. Assad regime forces have managed to break through the Islamic State’s siege of the city of Deir ez-Zor. Syrian army troops linked up with troops at the Brigade 137 base in the west of the city, where civilians have held off Islamic State forces for the past two years. Russia’s navy also fired Kalibr cruise missiles from a frigate in the Mediterranean, targeting unspecified Islamic State targets in Deir ez-Zor province.
Cybersecurity. There’s another large breach of personal information about military veterans with top secret clearances. Cybersecurity researchers found thousands of job applications for North Carolina-based defense contractor TigerSwan dating back to 2008 in an online cloud storage account.
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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