The Cable

SitRep: Trump Softens on North Korea, But Promises More Weapons for Seoul

Sales of American weapons in Syria booming; 3,500 U.S. troops heading to Afghanistan.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In shakes hands with President Donald Trump during their summit in Seoul on November 7. (Jeon Heon-Kyun - Pool /Getty Images)
South Korean President Moon Jae-In shakes hands with President Donald Trump during their summit in Seoul on November 7. (Jeon Heon-Kyun - Pool /Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

More military gear for South Korea. In Seoul on Tuesday, President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced they had reached an agreement to scrap the limit on South Korean missile payloads, and are exploring South Korea acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. The missile limit was last negotiated in 2012.

When it comes to North Korea however, Trump’s rhetoric was markedly toned down from his previous remarks and tweets. He implored North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to “do the right thing,” adding, “it really makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal.” He declined to answer a question as to whether he still thought negotiations with North Korea were a “waste of time” as he claimed last month.

American hardware nearby. Meanwhile, Trump made the unusual announcement that the United States has a nuclear submarine positioned in the region. “You know we sent three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world, and they’re right now positioned,” near the Korean coast, he said. “ We have a nuclear submarine also positioned.  We have many things happening that we hope, we hope — in fact, I’ll go a step further, we hope to God we never have to use.”

A decade. The last time that three U.S. carrier strike groups exercised together in the region was back in 2007, when the Nimitz, John C. Stennis and Kitty Hawk participated in drills near Guam.

Billions more for the Pentagon. Back home, the White House informed Congress late Monday that it was asking for over $4 billion in emergency funding requests for a variety of missile defense programs, ranging from new missile silos in Alaska, to new radars and missile interceptors.

The bulk of the request comes in the $2.1 billion ask for 20 more missiles that could intercept incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from North Korea, and 50 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors.

You had me at “Ground Based Interceptors.” The request has been welcomed on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers complained earlier this year that the Trump administration was underfunding missile defense. On Monday evening, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tx.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, released a statement noting that their “committees have already authorized many of these missile defense programs in our respective defense bills.” Those bills are coming up for final votes in the coming days.

More money, more missiles. The request comes after the Pentagon asked Congress in September to move $440 million from other accounts into missile defense programs, citing the North Korean threat. FP’s Paul McLeary has more on that request, and details about the upcoming ballistic missile defense review the Pentagon is slated to send to the White House by the end of the year. FP has also mapped out the U.S.-supplied missile defense systems already in place in South Korea, Japan, and Guam.

We have a surge number. After months of tapdancing around exactly how many more U.S. troops are are heading to Afghanistan, Monday’s request asks for $1.2 billion to support an additional 3,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Must read of the day. “In rebel-held Syria, access to the weapons you need to wage an insurgency are just a tap away thanks to an encrypted messaging app,” write FP contributors  Adam Rawnsley, Eric Woods, and Christiaan Triebert.

“Militants in Syria have been trading thousands of weapons in publicly accessible black markets hosted on Telegram, including dozens of U.S. military assault rifles and parts for the same kind of anti-tank missile systems distributed by the CIA to anti-Bashar al-Assad rebels. Foreign Policy conducted an exclusive investigation to determine the scale of these arms markets, and where the weapons that ended up on them originated.” More here.

Saudi tough talk on Iran. The missile fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia over the weekend was an “act of war”  Saudi foreign minister, Adel Jubair said on Monday. “Iran cannot lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to take steps.”

Who’s where when. At 10:00 a.m. the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a nomination hearing for another set of Pentagon appointees. Appearing are Robert F. Behler, for director of operational test and evaluation; Dr. Dean L. Winslow, for assistant secretary of defense for health affairs; Thomas B. Modly, for under secretary of the Navy; and James F. Geurts for assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition. Livestream here.

Air Force. The Air Force forgot to notify federal law enforcement about the 2014 domestic violence conviction of Devin Kelley, the man who killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland, Texas this on Sunday. Kelley, discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct, would have been ineligible to purchase a firearm had his domestic violence conviction been reported to federal authorities.

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

Construction. The Philippine military is upgrading the infrastructure at one of its island bases in the South China Sea, modernizing the facility in the Spratly Islands claimed by China. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte came into office looking to rebalance Manila’s relationships by depending less on the United States and trying to build a new relationship with China, but despite the outreach, Duterte still appears resolved to preserve Philippine territorial claims.

Hybrid school. Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Monday, taking time to pointedly hailed the Finn’s creation of the European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, a school whose curriculum includes lessons on how to counter Russia’s unique brand of open and covert conflict. Traditionally neutral Finland has grown increasingly anxious about its neighbor to the east’s aggressive posture over the past few years, moving closer to European security institutions like NATO as it contemplates a hedge against Moscow.

Declaring war. Thamer al-Sabhan, Saudi Arabia’s state minister for Gulf affairs, says the Lebanese government is effectively “declaring war on Saudi Arabia,” accusing it of being complicit in Hezbollah’s actions abroad and saying “The Lebanese must choose between peace or aligning with Hezbollah.” The declaration follows the resignation of Saudi-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who fled to the kingdom to escape what he claims was an a Hezbollah assassination plot against him.

Club Fed. Saudi Arabia has detained 17 princes and senior officials in what many are calling a bid by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to consolidate his power base and neutralize any opposition to his ascent. But being arrested in the kingdom isn’t quite like doing hard time here in the United States since those arrested are currently serving time in the five star luxury Ritz-Carlton Hotel. It’s unclear how long their detention will last but the hotel’s website says rooms won’t be available until December.

Afghanistan. The Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate has carried out an attack on Afghanistan’s Shamshad TV in the capital of Kabul, sending fighters dressed as Afghan policemen in an active shooter attack on the news channel’s headquarters. At least one person has been killed in the attack thus far but Shamshad director Abid Ehsas is undeterred, telling local news that “they cannot silence us.”

Unbanned. Afghanistan is walking back its threat to permanently ban encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram after a public backlash against the directive. Afghanistan’s communications ministry initially announced a 20 day ban on the apps, reportedly fearing that the Taliban was using the secure apps to evade surveillance, but dropped plans for a permanent ban after users of the popular messaging platforms complained.  

Ports closed. The U.N. is calling on Saudi Arabia to reopen transportation links to Yemen, saying that the travel lockdown is impeding the delivery of critically-needed humanitarian aid to a country already in the midst of famine. In the wake of a Houthi ballistic missile launch targeting Riyadh, Saudi Arabia shut down all of Yemen’s ports and cut off air links to the country, ostensibly to prevent the smuggling of Iranian weapons.

 

 

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

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