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SitRep: Questions Over Tillerson’s North Korea Plan; U.S. Citizen, ISIS Fighter, Captured in Syria

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Not sure about North Korea plan. A group of senators told a top State Department official Thursday they’re not sure the department’s efforts to get North Korea to give up its nukes can work. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said  he applauded the effort though Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ...

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26:  U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exits a brief media availability before his meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the State Department, July 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. When prompted by a reporter's question, Tillerson said 'I'm not going anywhere' and that he will stay on as Secretary of State 'as long as the president lets me.' (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exits a brief media availability before his meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the State Department, July 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. When prompted by a reporter's question, Tillerson said 'I'm not going anywhere' and that he will stay on as Secretary of State 'as long as the president lets me.' (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exits a brief media availability before his meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the State Department, July 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. When prompted by a reporter's question, Tillerson said 'I'm not going anywhere' and that he will stay on as Secretary of State 'as long as the president lets me.' (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Not sure about North Korea plan. A group of senators told a top State Department official Thursday they’re not sure the department’s efforts to get North Korea to give up its nukes can work.

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Not sure about North Korea plan. A group of senators told a top State Department official Thursday they’re not sure the department’s efforts to get North Korea to give up its nukes can work.

Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said  he applauded the effort though Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is “working against the unified view of our intelligence agencies.”  Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. also told Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific that “there may be a contradiction between the conclusions of the intelligence community and what the secretary of state is trying to do.”

Thornton acknowledged that U.S. intel agencies don’t believe North Korea will ever pull the plug on its nuclear program, but said the department is chugging ahead.

Next test. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Friday his government expects North Korea to launch a new provocation on Oct. 10, when the start of lower house election campaigns in Japan falls on the same date as the anniversary of the founding of the Pyongyang’s communist party.

SLBM. North Korea is trying to turn its nuclear monad into a dyad, pouring more resources into getting a sea-based leg to deliver nuclear warheads. Analysts at 38 North say new satellite imagery shows a second barge being prepared to use as another test bed for what could one day be a fully functioning North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile.

American ISIS in detention. An unnamed U.S. citizen has been held by U.S. forces since he surrendered to Kurdish forces in northern Syria on Sept. 12, though there’s little other information available about him. The man, who reportedly admitted to fighting for the Islamic State, was quickly turned over to American forces in Syria and is currently being held in theater.

Marc Kilstein, spokesperson  International Committee of the Red Cross told FP that the group “has been officially notified of the detention of a U.S. citizen,” and “we are following up with the U.S. authorities to organize a visit, and anticipate being given timely access to visit the individual,” for a private meeting.

It’s unclear if the Trump administration will attempt to try the man in an American criminal court or hold him in military detention.

There’s precedent here. In March 2016 a Virginia man, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, also surrendered to Kurdish forces in Iraq and was held by U.S. forces in theater for a time. In June 2017, he was convicted in a federal court in Virginia of providing material support to the Islamic State. He’ll be sentenced on October 13, and faces five years to life.

That case obviously occurred under the Obama administration, which worked to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, whereas the Trump team has worked to keep the jail open. Trump pledged to keep the jail open, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the prison in June.

Referendum. The U.S. is warning that Iraq’s fight over a Kurdish independence referendum is interfering with the war against the Islamic State. Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon said Thursday that Iraq’s focus on rolling back the terrorist group “which used to be like a laser-beam on ISIS, is now not 100 percent there. There has been an effect on the overall mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq as a result of the referendum.”

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

Social media. The Russians who purchased Facebook ads to spread fake news and organize astroturf rallies during the 2016 election also opened Twitter accounts, according to a statement from Twitter released after company officials briefed Congressional investigators on Thursday. The company says that it found 200 accounts linked to the Facebook propaganda campaign as well as $274,000 in ads purchased by the Russian state-run RT news channel.

Spy games. Ukrainian intelligence busted a North Korean spy trying to steal missile plans in 2011, feeding him fake plans as part of a sting operation. Ukraine gave the New York Times access to Ri Tae-gil, the convicted North Korean spy, in prison as it tries to shake off suspicions — thus far unproven — from some analysts that the North may have made progress in its missile programs with help from stolen Ukrainian missile designs.

Nastygrams. North Korea spreads propaganda leaflets over South Korea referring to President Trump as a “barefaced robber.”

Home stretch. In a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the end of Syria’s civil war is more or less in sight, with the “necessary conditions” for peace already established. Putin said both Russia and Turkey now need to turn their attention to creating deescalation zones in Idlib province, a stronghold for remaining Islamist rebels.

Libya. U.S. Africa Command carried out another two airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Libya outside of Sirte, according to a statement released on Thursday.   

Since u been gone. Rumors of Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death appear to have been greatly exaggerated. Media outlets for the terrorist group distributed a 46 minute audio recording purportedly from Baghdadi, which if confirmed would mark his first statement in a year. Baghdadi praised Islamic State fighters for the pyrrhic battle in Mosul and threatened more terrorist attacks in the West, including “disbeliever media centers.”

Myanmar. America’s U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is taking a hard line on Myanmar for what she says is “a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority.” Haley called on Myanmar officials to prosecute those accused of human rights abuses and called on other countries to halt weapons shipments until the government shows signs of curbing the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

Cuba. The State Department is pulling up stakes and gearing up to evacuate a large number of diplomats and their families from the U.S. embassy in Havana in response to a series of bizarre, so-called “sonic attacks” that caused brain damage and hearing loss for American diplomats in Cuba. The U.S. investigation into the attacks continues but the State Department will reportedly cut staff down to minimum essential personnel in Havana.

Bad idea aisle. Toy stores in Singapore are pulling a line of knockoff Chinese-made Legos from the shelves after discovering Islamic State-themed sets labeled “ISIS Jihadi John” and “extremist who enjoys blowing things up for fun.”

 

Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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