The Cable

SitRep: China Says No Deal With Trump on Military Exercises

Former SecDefs reject Trump tax bill, Army secretary finally moves in

President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping arrive at a state dinner in Beijing, China on November 9. (Thomas Peter - Pool/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping arrive at a state dinner in Beijing, China on November 9. (Thomas Peter - Pool/Getty Images)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley and Dan De Luce

China contradicts Trump on North Korea. President Trump on Wednesday proclaimed he had an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to reject a “freeze for freeze” agreement with North Korea, which would halt U.S. military exercises in the region in return for a suspension of the North Korean nuclear program. “Time is running out,” Trump said at the White House. “And we made it clear. And all options remain on the table.”

China, which calls the ‘freeze for freeze’ idea ‘dual suspension,’ pushed back on that Thursday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called the dual suspension proposal “the most feasible, fair and sensible plan in the present situation,” adding, “not only can it relieve the present tense situation, it can also resolve all parties most pressing security concerns, and provide an opportunity and create conditions to resume talks.”

Former Pentagon chiefs warn against tax cut. If Congress votes through the massive tax cuts currently on the House floor, it would likely mean future cuts to Pentagon budgets “for training, maintenance, force structure, flight missions, procurement and other key programs.”

That’s according to former defense secretaries Leon E. Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter, who sent a letter to congressional leadership Wednesday opposing the plan. “The result is the growing danger of a ‘hollowed out’ military force that lacks the ability to sustain the intensive deployment requirements of our global defense mission,” the secretaries wrote.

U.S. reduces U.N. funding. The No. 2 civilian official in the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that Washington will decrease its contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping fund by 3 percent.

Speaking at a U.N. conference in Vancouver, Canada, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that the U.S. will stay the largest financial contributor for peacekeeping missions, but “we currently provide more than 28 percent of assessed costs,” which will soon slide to 25 percent of the $8 billion in annual costs to equip and deploy peacekeepers.

And then there were none. The Senate on Wednesday approved former Raytheon lobbyist Mark Esper as Army Secretary, making him the last of the civilian service secretaries to take a seat at the Pentagon. President Trump’s first two picks for Army Secretary flamed out, and Esper’s nomination was held up since July due to objections lodged by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that the Pentagon wasn’t being forthcoming about its war plans for Afghanistan.

Navy pushing forward on submarine plan. Navy leaders say they’re planning to build two Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines a year to reach the ultimate goal of a 66-sub fleet, a build rate that will get the Navy to that magic number by 2048.

Building two Virginia-class subs a year — even in years where the Navy buys Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarines — is a change in plans, which previously called for only on Virginia build in the years where a Columbia was built, but officials tell the U.S. Naval Institute blog that they think they can pull it off.

Meanwhile, Connecticut -based submarine maker Electric Boat — which has built many of the Navy’s subs over the past century — is scrambling to find more workers.

Boots in Europe. The chief of staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Mark Milley, told reporters on Wednesday he is weighing a “slight increase” in the Army’s footprint in Europe to deter Russia, including more armored units, long-range artillery and aviation. “Ground forces play an outsized role in conventional deterrence and conventional assurance of allies, because your physical presence on the ground speaks volumes,” Milley told a defense writers group briefing.

Army strong. Asked about a USA Today story this week saying the Army was issuing waivers for recruits with a history of mental health problems, Milley insisted that was not the case. The decision had been taken lower down the chain of command but the Army is not short-circuiting standards to meet ambitious goals to expand the size of the force, the general said. The Army’s recruiting goal for 2018 is 80,000 new soldiers, compared to 69,000 new soldiers for 2017. Milley did tip his hat to the newspaper however for calling his attention to the issue.

The spy and his dossier. The former British spy Christopher Steele who compiled the infamous dossier on Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia says it is 70-90 percent accurate, according to a new book by Guardian journalist Luke Harding. He also has told his friends that his dossier’s findings will be vindicated as the special counsel Robert Mueller presses ahead with his investigation.

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

A suicide bomber attacked a meeting of an Afghan political party in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least nine people and wounding many others, the interior ministry said.

Brits wonder about Russian influence on the Brexit campaign.

Congressional leaders want an investigation into $400 million worth of Afghanistan projects that have gone up in smoke.

Ghouta in the crosshairs as the Syrian army backed by Russian jets are stepping up shelling and air strikes on a rebel-held enclave in Damascus, just days after rebels stormed an army base in the area.

The United States is calling for a vote Thursday on a resolution that would extend the mandate to determine who was responsible for chemical attacks in Syria, which is likely to face Russian opposition.

If Saudi Arabia goes through with plans to buy Russian air defense systems, that would create real problems in trying to integrate with with U.S.-made systems,

In a surprise move, the top U.S. counterterrorism official is stepping down at the end of the year, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said Wednesday. Trump administration officials had asked Nick Rasmussen to stay on as director of the National Counterterrorism Center in January, but Rasmussen decided more recently to leave the job he had held for three years.

The White House on Wednesday went public with the rules by which it decides to keep secret software flaws that can be turned into cyberweapons — whether by U.S. agencies hacking for foreign intelligence, criminals or foreign spies seeking to peek inside American computers.


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