Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer. Look out for special editions of this newsletter Feb. 16-19 as SitRep heads to Germany to give you behind-the-scenes looks and breaking news from The Munich Security Conference, one of the most consequential gatherings of world leaders.

Iran’s Hard Line on Reviving Nuclear Talks

Macron’s G-7 proposal likely a non-starter for Trump.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif speaks during a joint press conference with Norway's Foreign Minister after a meeting, on August 22, 2019 in Oslo. (STIAN LYSBERG SOLUM/AFP/Getty Images)
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif speaks during a joint press conference with Norway's Foreign Minister after a meeting, on August 22, 2019 in Oslo. (STIAN LYSBERG SOLUM/AFP/Getty Images)
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif speaks during a joint press conference with Norway's Foreign Minister after a meeting, on August 22, 2019 in Oslo. (STIAN LYSBERG SOLUM/AFP/Getty Images)

What’s on tap today: The Iran nuclear deal is on the table at the G-7, new photos emerge of construction of China’s largest amphibious assault ship, and how the U.S. Justice Department is trying to counter the opioid crisis with data. 


Macron Tries to Salvage Iran Deal

Zarif’s surprise G-7 stop. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, made a surprise appearance at the annual Group of 7 summit meeting this weekend, the latest twist in a conflict between Tehran and the West that has played out in recent months over oil tankers, drones and Iran’s nuclear program. 

What’s on tap today: The Iran nuclear deal is on the table at the G-7, new photos emerge of construction of China’s largest amphibious assault ship, and how the U.S. Justice Department is trying to counter the opioid crisis with data. 


Macron Tries to Salvage Iran Deal

Zarif’s surprise G-7 stop. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, made a surprise appearance at the annual Group of 7 summit meeting this weekend, the latest twist in a conflict between Tehran and the West that has played out in recent months over oil tankers, drones and Iran’s nuclear program. 

Zarif met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been trying to mediate talks between Washington and Tehran, and the country’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, on the sidelines of the G-7 but was not invited to attend any of the summit’s formal sessions. 

Iran’s tough stance. The talks appeared to be part of Europe’s attempts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from last year. But Iran has lately taken a harder line; on Sunday, officials told Reuters that Tehran would insist on being allowed to export at least 700,000 barrels of oil a day as a “good-will gesture” to revive talks on the nuclear accord. They also said Iran would refuse to negotiate over the country’s ballistic missile program or right to enrich uranium. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, while he would not discuss Zarif’s visit, did make a point of repeating that Trump has expressed willingness to talk with Tehran. But these conditions would likely be unacceptable to the Trump administration. 

Trump won’t go for it. Indeed, a senior U.S. official told Bloomberg that Macron’s pitch to Trump–allowing Iran to sell oil for a limited period of time in exchange for returning to talks and to compliance with the agreement–was a nonstarter


What We’re Watching

More Greenland fallout. With its capable Navy, vibrant shipping industry and close U.S. ties, Denmark seemed like a natural addition to a U.S.-led maritime patrol effort to counter Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. Then Trump tried to buy Greenland. Lara Seligman reports on how the president’s war of words with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen over the surprise proposal—and his abrupt cancellation of a visit to the country—may have complicated Denmark’s calculations in joining the fledgling initiative. 

South Korea-Japan tensions. Relations between the United States’ two closest Asian allies are already at their worst state in years, after South Korea announced that it would end a military intelligence-sharing deal with Japan in retaliation for new trade restrictions. But things are about to get worse, as Seoul on Sunday kicked off biannual military exercises aimed at demonstrating control over a set of islets that Japan also claims. 

China’s largest amphib. China’s largest amphibious assault ship is expected to launch this year, as recent photos reveal construction is progressing at a Shanghai shipyard. The ship, which is roughly analogous to the U.S. Navy’s Wasp-class landing helicopter dock, will feature a large flight deck capable of handling five to six large transport helicopters taking off and preparing for flight simultaneously, writes Mike Yeo at Defense News. 

Khalilzad denies Reuters report. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for reconciliation in Afghanistan who has been pressing the Taliban to secure a peace settlement, on Monday disavowed a Reuters report that the United States will cease support of Afghan forces as part of any agreement. “Let me be clear,” he tweeted. “We will defend Afghan forces now and after any agreement w/ the Talibs.” 

Khalilzad did not, however, dispute the main thrust of the story, which quoted Taliban sources saying agreement would not mean an end to fighting with the U.S.-backed Afghan government. 

For more news and analysis from Foreign Policy and around the world, subscribe to Morning Brief, delivered weekday mornings.


Technology & Cyber

Deadly summer for drones. This summer has seen a spate of attacks on U.S. drones flying over the Middle East, most notably a June 20 shootdown of an U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk that nearly led Trump to launch missile strikes on Iran. But these events are not entirely uncommon. C4ISR has compiled a list of the times U.S. drones have been shot down by enemy forces.

OCX on track for 2021. After years of technical challenges and schedule delays, a new, modernized ground control system for GPS satellites is now on track for a June 2021 delivery, Raytheon leaders said last week. But don’t hold your breath–the Next Generation Operational Control System, known as OCX, which promises to improve accuracy, cybersecurity and increase the number of satellites the system can control, is already five years past its original deadline. 

Solving the opioid crisis with data? In a promising use of data analytics to combat the opioid epidemic that has been ravaging communities across the country, the Justice Department is now tracking large numbers of prescriptions and billing records to find patterns of abuse. The Wall Street Journal has more


Movers & Shakers

U.S. Navy gets a new chief. Adm. Michael Gilday, a surface warfare officer who previously directed the Navy’s Cyber Command, took over as the next chief of naval operations during a Thursday ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard. Gilday, then a three-star admiral, was thrust into the path for the top Navy job this summer after Adm. John Richardson’s planned successor,  Adm. Bill Moran, suddenly retired amid questions about his professional relationship with a former public affairs officer embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. 

Gilday’s promotion is the first time a three-star admiral has been lifted into the top uniformed Navy post in nearly five decades. Military Times has more details


FP Recommends

‘Goodbye, Old Man.’ One year after Arizona Senator John McCain’s death, his son Jack tells the Washington Post the heartwrenching story of how he deployed to Afghanistan while his father was battling brain cancer, rushed home for the funeral, and then returned to the war zone for eight more months. 


That’s it for today. To get this newsletter in your inbox, 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

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