The Cable

SitRep: Senator Predicts War Over New North Korean ICBM, Nuke Program

Rex Tillerson sees global conflicts turning out just fine, and quickly; message on Afghanistan remains the same

People watch a television broadcast, reporting North Korea's test-launch of its new ICBM on November 29, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
People watch a television broadcast, reporting North Korea's test-launch of its new ICBM on November 29, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

New missile, new range, new problems. North Korea fired off a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday — the Hwasong-15 — that flew higher than any previous missile it had previously tested. And it puts the entire United States within Pyongyang’s range.

The launch came days after a decision by the Trump administration to list the regime as a state sponsor of terrorism, FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce write.

North Korean state television said Wednesday that “we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”

New heights. The missile peaked at an altitude of about 2,900 miles, higher than the record 2,800-mile altitude reached in a July test. Missile experts said the long flight time — more than 50 minutes — and high trajectory suggested that the missile could have as much as 8,000-mile range, enough to put Washington, D.C. in the crosshairs.

Getting after it. “We’re headed toward a war if things don’t change,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CNN Tuesday. “The president is not going to allow North Korea to have a nuclear weapon in their hands that can hit America with an ICBM that can make it to the United States…If we have to go to war to stop this, we will,” he said.

Don’t worry, everything’s going to be just fine. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday pushed back at widespread criticism that he is decimating the State Department. He also said his proposed 30 percent cut to the State Department’s $55 billion budget is a good idea, since he expects to resolve several global conflicts that presently take up department resources, reports FP’s Robbie Gramer.

“Part of this bringing the budget numbers back down is reflective of an expectation that we’re going to have success in some of these conflict areas, of getting these conflicts resolved and moving to a different place in terms of the kind of support that we have to give them,” he said, without specifying the conflicts he expected to resolve.

This one still needs work. “NATO allies will be under pressure to provide more troops for Afghanistan when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Europe next week, but his push may face resistance even as more U.S. troops deploy to the battlefield,” Stars and Stripes reports from Europe.

Afghanistan turning a corner. Again. Or still? After 16 years of war, the United States and its Afghan partners “have turned the corner,” and Kabul’s battered forces are “on a path to a win.” the top U.S. general there told reporters on Tuesday.

But FP’s Paul McLeary notes that we’ve heard this before. American generals have been seeing victory on the horizon since at least 2007, and “Gen. John Nicholson is at least the eighth top commander in the last decade to forecast a pathway to victory in a war that has dragged on nearly all century, and his optimistic forecasts contrast starkly with deteriorating Afghan government control and a resurgent Taliban.”

But Pakistan gonna Pakistan. President Trump promised to take a harder line on Pakistan and its support of militants in Afghanistan and the region, but Nicholson said Islamabad doesn’t seem to be getting the message. The general said he’s been clear that the U.S. expects Pakistan to quit supporting the Taliban stop militant infiltration across the border into Afghanistan but so far he’s “not seen those changes implemented yet.”

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

Russia aims for hearts and minds in loyalist Syria. Americans are familiar with the Kremlin-backed news channel RT and its alleged attempts to help Moscow’s favorite candidates in the 2016 presidential election, but Coda reports on an altogether different influence campaign by the channel’s Arabic-language service among Assad regime supporters in Syria. RT has quickly become a popular outlet for residents in regime controlled areas, gaining an audience by pouring resources and reporters into coverage of conflict hotspots with RT reporters enjoying greater freedom and access in its coverage than local Syrian outlets.

Finding Putin’s daughter. Reporters from Reuters have confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughter is a woman going under the name of Katerina Tikhonova. Tikhanova has widely been suspected to be a member of the Putin family, but Reuters reporters confirmed her identity with the vice president of the World Rock‘n‘Roll Confederation, where Tikhanova competes as a dancer, later withdrawing his comments with the suspect excuse of having misheard a question.

I learned it from watching you, dad. President Trump’s war on CNN is having a ripple effect abroad as countries and media outlets adopt his peculiar brand of disdain for the channel. Earlier in the week, Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs attacked the network by name for its attempts to reach the scene of a terrorist attack at a mosque in Sinai, calling it by the 2016 campaign epithet “deplorable.” On Tuesday, Libyan media tried to discredit CNN’s recording of a slave auction for African migrants in the country, pointing to Trump criticism of the channel as “fake news.”

Murder mystery in Turkey. The FBI is now investigating the murder of an American reporter and her mother, Halla and Orouba Barakat, after they were stabbed to death in Turkey. Syrian opposition activists have called on the bureau to investigate the murder, alleging that the Assad regime may have been complicit in their deaths, but the FBI says that they have a case open but that Turkish authorities have denied offers of American investigative. assistance.

Benghazi plotter convicted. A federal jury in Washington has convicted Libyan militant leader Ahmed Abu Khattala for his role in the 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens. The jury acquitted Abu Khatala of murder charges but convicted him on terrorism charges, which could earn him life in prison during sentencing.

Francis on eggshells in Myanmar. Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis has not been kind to the reputations of globally respected figures like Aung San Suu Kyi, but now it’s Pope Francis’s turn in the hot seat for his tepid reaction to the Myanmar government’s human rights abuses against its Muslim minority population. During a speech in Myanmar on Tuesday, Pope Francis spoke only of the need for “respect for each ethnic group and identity,” refusing to use the term “Rohingya” in apparent deference to the government’s unwillingness to acknowledge Rohingya Muslims as a distinct ethnic group.

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