The Cable

SitRep: Asian Allies React to Trump U.N. Performance

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley U.N. Fallout. After U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a dark, combative speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday — in which he threatened to to “totally destroy” North Korea and denounced the Iran nuclear deal as an “embarrassment” to the United States — Washington’s allies in ...

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 19, 2017 in New York City. Among the issues facing the assembly this year are North Korea's nuclear developement, violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and the debate over climate change. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 19, 2017 in New York City. Among the issues facing the assembly this year are North Korea's nuclear developement, violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and the debate over climate change. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

U.N. Fallout. After U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a dark, combative speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday — in which he threatened to to “totally destroy” North Korea and denounced the Iran nuclear deal as an “embarrassment” to the United States — Washington’s allies in Asia are expressing a mix of confusion and concern.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have pointedly not commented on the speech. In remarks earlier this year, Trump  accused Moon of trying to “appease” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. President Trump will sit down with the two allied leaders in New York on Thursday.

Response from Asia. Filing from Tokyo, the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield and Simon Denyer write that Washington’s “closest allies in Asia seemed blindsided by President Trump’s latest outburst against North Korea,” with Chinese state media taking the harshest line, saying Trump’s comments would “likely worsen the already volatile situation.”

From FP’s Colum Lynch at the United Nations: “The threats were part of a provocative inaugural address to the 193-member U.N. General Assembly that Trump used to drive home his “America first” approach to foreign affairs. It stood in sharp contrast to his appearance Monday at a forum on U.N. reform, which he used to express a personal commitment to work with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, whom he credited with doing a ‘fantastic’ job.”

Rex speaks. After the president’s comments, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took to Fox News to demand changes to the Iran deal, suggesting the U.S. is prepared to unilaterally walk away. In particular, the Trump administration objects to the “sunset clauses” which relax some of the restrictions placed on Tehran in 2025. “If we’re going to stick with the Iran deal there has to be changes made to it. The sunset provisions simply is not a sensible way forward,” he said.

To this point, the Trump administration has not publicly expressed a diplomatic road map for achieving any of its goals in North Korea or Iran.

Glimpse into the future. “North Korea is a very good illustration of a ‘what if’ regarding Iran.” — French President Emmanuel Macron, making his argument for the U.S. to keep the Iran nuclear deal.

Air Force good to go. The motto of U.S. forces in South Korea is “Fight Tonight,” an idea that the U.S. Air Force seems pretty comfortable using. Asked by FP’s Paul McLeary about U.S. readiness to confront North Korea while keeping an eye on China in the Pacific region, Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the Air Force’s Global Strike Command said “we’re ready to fight tonight…we don’t have to spin up, we’re ready.”

Rand’s comments came during the annual Air Force Association conference in Washington, which brings together the service’s top brass for three days of talks. “Our role is to be a continuous bomber presence and have the ability to launch bombers from a long way away in a very short period of time,” Rand said.

Mattis to speak. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is due to address the conference at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. His remarks will be streamed live here.

Twitter mutes terrorist fanboys. Twitter suspended 300,000 accounts for promoting terrorism during the sixth-month period ending June 30, 2017, a 20 percent drop compared to the previous six-month period, the company said in a blog post Tuesday.

FP’s Elias Groll writes that the reduction comes as “Twitter and Facebook have come under intense pressure to crack down on terrorist use of the internet to recruit followers and promote violence. On Wednesday, world leaders will convene a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss terrorist use of the internet and push tech firms to be more aggressive in removing terrorist accounts from their platforms.”

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

Surveillance. The FBI’s surveillance warrant for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort overlapped with the presidential campaign and picked up conversations between Manafort and unspecified Russian individuals discussing the election, a former U.S. official told CBS News.

Sanctions. North Korean ships leaving Russian ports with cargo holds full of fuel changed their destinations in mid-course, according to a Reuters investigation. U.S. officials say North Korean ships frequently change their listed destination while underway in order to avoid sanctions on direct shipments of prohibited items to the North.

Friends in high places. An anonymous Chinese Communist Party official tells Nikkei Asian Review  that Chinese President Xi Jinping is trying to “tighten his grip on the military by choosing people who don’t have allegiances to past leaders” for senior positions in the People’s Liberation Army. In a recent reshuffle of key positions, XI has helped relatively less experienced senior officers close to him climb the ranks, installing Li Shangfu as head of the Equipment Development Department and Zhou Yaning as commander of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force.

Close shave. Observers at Russia’s massive Zapad military exercises in Russia got a nasty surprise on Tuesday when a Russian military helicopter fired a rocket in their direction, nearly killing them. Three people were reportedly injured in the incident, which was captured on video, but the Russian military denied all reports of casualties, calling them a “purposeful provocation or someone’s personal stupidity.”

Exodus. The U.S.-led coalition’s assault on Raqqa has prompted the cell of Islamic State commanders responsible for orchestrating terrorist attacks in Europe to flee the caliphate’s capital, British military intelligence officials tell Sky News. “We saw the movement out of Raqqa from these types of people much before the Raqqa operation really started in earnest,” one intelligence officer told the news outlet.

All apologies. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says President Trump called him last week to apologize over the indictment of 15 members of Erdogan’s security detail charged in Washington, DC with assaulting protesters during Erdogan’s visit to the US. “He said that he was sorry and he told me that he was going to follow up on this issue when we come to the United States within the framework of an official visit,” Erdogan told PBS’s Judy Woodruff. The White House says Trump and Erdogan did speak but that no apology was offered.

Crisis averted. President Trump called Saudi and Emirati leaders in the first days of their campaign to boycott Qatar to warn them off plans for military action against Doha, according to a scoop from Bloomberg. Trump reportedly told leaders from the two countries that trying to remove the Qatari government by force would destabilize the region and work to Iran’s benefit.

Timing. Israel shot down an Iranian drone sent by Hezbollah into Israeli airspace on Tuesday. Israeli forces shot down the drone, which they say took off from an air base near Damascus, with a Patriot missile fired from the town of Safed. The drone flight appeared to be timed to coincide with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the U.N. General Assembly.

Requiem. Wuilly Arteaga, a Venezuelan protester who became famous after footage of him playing the Venezuelan national anthem on the violin during violent police crackdowns on protesters, is looking at seeking asylum in the United States as a political refugee.

 

Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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