Security Brief

Can Trump and Erdogan Resolve the Russian Missile Dispute?

Turkey is set to receive the first of its Russian S-400s in days.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

What’s on tap today: Trump seeks a resolution with Erdogan over Turkey’s controversial plan to buy Russian missiles, a new proposal to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, and Huawei gets a reprieve. 

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Missile Dispute

Trump blames Obama. Top U.S. officials have spent months warning Turkey that moving forward with a plan to procure a sophisticated Russian air defense system would trigger harsh sanctions and jeopardize Ankara’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. But sitting next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of a bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Japan this weekend, President Donald Trump struck a conciliatory note, blaming the Obama administration for the dispute. 

“We have a complicated situation because the President was not allowed to buy the Patriot missiles,” Trump said, referring to the Raytheon-built alternative to the Russian S-400 the administration offered Turkey late last year. “So he buys the other missile and then, all of a sudden, they say, ‘Well, you can now buy our missile.’  You can’t do business that way.” 

Fact check. Actually, Turkey passed over the Patriot twice before the most recent offer, which included better terms both on pricing and on co-production. Both times, the deals fell apart because Ankara insisted on transfer of the missile technology, something U.S. officials declined to do. 

Sanctions loom. Trump said he is looking at “different solutions,” but the two presidents have precious little time to resolve the dispute. Erdogan indicated over the weekend that the S-400 would arrive in Turkey within ten days. And even if Trump decides not to impose sanctions, which would all but cripple the already struggling Turkish economy, lawmakers in Congress have promised to impose sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act if it goes through with the S-400 purchase. 


North Korea 

Acceptance. On the heels of President Donald Trump’s surprise meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, an intriguing New York Times report claims that some in the administration are willing to allow North Korea to keep its current nuclear weapons in exchange for freezing further development.

That proposal is fraught with risk, not least within the White House, where several key Trump lieutenants have argued that war with North Korea is preferable to allowing the country to keep its nuclear weapons. Such a proposal would also turn on aggressive inspections inside North Korea, something Pyongyang may be unlikely to support, and would require the closure of the Yongbyon nuclear facility and at least one other clandestine site. 

National Security Adviser John Bolton dismissed the Times story, calling it a “reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the president.” But then Bolton looks a bit out of the loop on Korea: Incredibly, while Fox News personalities were at the Trump-Kim meeting, Bolton was in Mongolia.

Tick-tock. Trump’s invitation to Kim by tweet set off a frantic scramble among White House aides to set up the meeting between the two men, the Wall Street Journal reports. Trump’s lieutenants had no indication that Trump would reach out to Kim for a meeting. 

Press scrum bruises. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grishman scuffled with North Korean security in order to get American reporters into a meeting with Trump and Kim. The scuffle left her bruised, CNN reports


What We’re Watching 

The third man. The investigative group Bellingcat identified a third man involved in the attempted assassination of the former spy Sergei Skripal as a GRU officer named Denis Sergeev. A major- or lieutenant general in the Russian spy service, Sergeev is thought to have coordinated the assassination attempt. 

Lobbying help. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, the de facto military ruler of Sudan, brokered a multimillion-dollar lobbying deal to increase his sway in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and elsewhere, and welcomed a former member of the U.S. Congress to Khartoum for meetings amid a growing power struggle in the east African country, Justin Lynch and Robbie Gramer report

MBS welcomed at G20. Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was scorned by most world leaders at the last G-20 summit in November, amid international outrage over the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and war in Yemen. But this year, the crown prince was front-and-center in the traditional “family photo,” standing between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the event’s host.

Taliban attack. The Taliban exploded a truck bomb near the Defense Ministry in Kabul, wounding more than 100, and starting a running gunbattle in the capital with Afghan security forces. That attack came just a day after Taliban fighters rammed as many as four vehicles packed with explosives into a government compound in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Sunday, killing dozens. The number of deadly attacks in Afghanistan has escalated as talks between Taliban officials and American diplomats continue in Qatar, writes the New York Times 

Defense policy bill. Senators last week overwhelmingly passed a $750 billion defense authorization bill for next year, setting up a fight with the House over an expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, money for Trump’s border wall, transgender enlistment, and other issues. Notably, Senate Republicans defeated an amendment that would have barred Trump from launching a military strike against Iran without Congress’ permission.  


Tech & Cyber

Reversal on Huawei. Six weeks after blacklisting Huawei, Trump reversed course at the G-20 meeting in Japan this weekend, announcing that U.S. companies are now free to sell their equipment to the Chinese telecom giant. 

Supply chain wars. Japan said it would restrict the supply to South Korea of key materials used in high-tech manufacturing amid a dispute over wartime claims between the two countries. 

Pwned. Hackers working on behalf of Western intelligence broke into the computer systems of the Russian search giant Yandex, Reuters reports

Mini-drones. Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division will become the first Army infantry unit to employ pocket-sized drones–the hand-held Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System–on their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes reports. The devices are expected to become standard across the Army. 


FP Recommends 

The Maltese academic. After providing the impetus for the launch of the Mueller investigation, the Maletese academic Joseph Mifsud appears to have disappeared. Now, Trump allies are positing a radical theory–that Mifsud was a Western intelligence asset–as the Justice Department probes the origin of the Mueller investigation, the Washington Post reports. 


Quote of the Week 

Own the libs. “The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.” –Russian President Vladimir Putin in a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times. 

That’s it for today. For more from FP, subscribe here or sign-up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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