From the SitRoom to the E-Ring, the inside scoop on defense, national security and foreign policy.
From the SitRoom to the E-Ring, the inside scoop on defense, national security and foreign policy.
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By NAHAL TOOSI, ALEXANDER WARD and MATT BERG
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no signs of parting with the weapons that secure his regime’s survival. | Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo
With help from Lara Seligman and Daniel Lippman
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A long taboo subject is now the source of serious debate in and around Washington: Accepting North Korea as a nuclear-armed country.
North Korean leader KIM JONG UN, who grew the nuclear program his father and grandfather built before him, has shown no signs of parting with the weapons that secure his regime’s survival. Direct diplomacy by former President DONALD TRUMP and an open invitation to working-level talks by Biden administration officials haven’t changed the despot’s mind.
In September, North Korea passed a law declaring itself a nuclear-weapons state. Kim called this reality “irreversible” and ruled out future talks on denuclearization. He also ordered the largest number of missile tests of any single year in North Korean history –– and a seventh nuclear test may not be far off.
Experts are thus imploring the Biden administration to change course as the prospects of a non-nuclear North Korea dwindle by the day, and simply accept that North Korea is and will be a nuclear state.
JEFFREY LEWIS, a rare expert who has long argued for such a policy, suddenly feels much less alone. He told NatSec Daily he was surprised at the level of positive response when he laid out the case in a recent New York Times column. Other analysts have laid out similar arguments for a policy shift in recent weeks.
If the United States agrees to set aside the nuclear issue, it might over time convince North Korea to engage on other sensitive matters, including its human rights abuses, Lewis and others argue. Such engagement would allow the U.S. to focus, Lewis said, on “What would a better, less dangerous relationship with this country look like? And would a better, less dangerous relationship with this country result in tangible improvements in the lives of actual people?”
For a brief moment, it seemed like the Biden administration had heeded Lewis’ advice.
BONNIE JENKINS, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, caused a stir last Thursday when she spoke of the possibility of “arms control” talks with North Korea during an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Those types of talks are usually held with accepted nuclear powers.
But within 24 hours the State Department had twice walked back Jenkins’ comments. ALEXANDRA BELL, the deputy assistant secretary of State in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, said at the same conference (after a query from NatSec Daily) last Friday that U.S. policy on North Korea hadn’t changed.
In an interview today, a senior Biden administration official stressed that recognizing North Korea as a nuclear state is “not in the U.S. interest,” adding that there’s no “serious discussion” about changing the current policy. But the official did say U.S. negotiators would travel to North Korea for nuclear talks with regime counterparts, including senior figures. “We’ve communicated that directly to them; they’re not interested,” the official said. “We don’t know” why there’s silence from Pyongyang. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic.
Meanwhile, there’s still widespread skepticism that the nuclear-recognition play can work.
STEPHEN BIEGUN, a former U.S. special envoy for North Korea and deputy secretary of State, said that it wouldn’t necessarily lead Pyongyang to change its core philosophy. Even if the U.S. lifted some sanctions in exchange for, say, the cessation of cyberattacks, Kim would likely just shift any new income into his conventional and nuclear arsenals.
“Every time we accept a new nuclear weapons state in a semi-legitimate status, we further weaken the global non-proliferation regime, and we also create new incentives for other countries to have nuclear weapons,” Biegun said.
IRAN SENDING RUSSIA WEAPONS: Iran will send Russia about 1,000 additional weapons including surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missiles and drones, CNN’s KYLIE ATWOOD reports, citing officials from a Western country that closely monitors Iran’s weapons program. National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY later told reporters that “we are concerned that Iran might be considering the provision of surface-to-surface missiles.”
A senior defense official told our own LARA SELIGMAN that the Pentagon expects a shipment “soon,” — declining to give any more specific timeline — but has not seen any movement yet.
If it happens, it would be the first time Iran sends advanced precision-guided missiles to Moscow, which could significantly help the country on the battlefield against Ukraine. The weapons are believed to be delivered by the end of the year, officials said, signaling a notable increase in Iranian support for Russia.
Iran’s last shipment to support VLADIMIR PUTIN’s forces included about 450 drones, many of which Ukrainian forces have shot down. Since the technology is unfamiliar to Russian troops, Iranians in Crimea are providing training on how to pilot the drones.
GRAIN SHIPMENTS CONTINUE: Grain shipments are still leaving Ukrainian ports despite Russian calls to suspend participation in the initiative, Reuters reports.
Three vessels exited the ports on Tuesday, with the shipments approved by the Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. delegations at the Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Center. That’s after a dozen ships set sail from Ukrainian ports on Monday, marking the largest single day of exports since the Black Sea Grain Initiative began.
The export deal was made between Russia and Ukraine and brokered by the U.N. and Turkey to combat the world hunger crisis partially caused by the war. AMIR ABDULLA, the U.N. Coordinator for the initiative, “continues his discussions with all three member state parties in an effort to resume full participation at the JCC,” according to a statement from his office.
FORCED EVACUATION: Ukrainian officials accused Russia of forced depopulation after it ordered citizens to leave an area of Ukraine along the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, Reuters’ PAVEL POLITYUK and JONATHAN LANDAY report.
Russia had initially ordered an evacuation on the river’s west bank due to Ukrainian troops inching toward Kherson, but officials extended the order to a nine-mile buffer zone on Tuesday. The actions amount to forced deportation from occupied territory, which is a war crime, Kyiv said.
In a video message, VLADIMIR SALDO, the Russian-installed head of occupied Kherson region, cited “the possibility of the use of prohibited methods of war by the Ukrainian regime, as well as information that Kyiv is preparing a massive missile strike on the Kakhovka hydroelectric station,” as reason for evacuation.
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IMMINENT IRANIAN ATTACK ON SAUDI: Officials in Washington and Riyadh are warning of an imminent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal’s DION NISSENBAUM reports.
Troops in the region, including American ones, are now on high alert.
“Saudi officials said Iran is poised to carry out attacks on both the kingdom and Erbil, Iraq, in an effort to distract attention from domestic protests that have roiled the country since September,” per Nissenbaum.
“We are concerned about the threat picture, and we remain in constant contact through military and intelligence channels with the Saudis,” a National Security Council spokesperson told WSJ. “We will not hesitate to act in the defense of our interests and partners in the region.”
CHINA GETS U.S. TECH: A report found the Chinese government is “almost certainly” acquiring and using U.S. technology for surveillance operations against members of the Uyghur community in the Xinjiang province, our friends at Morning Cybersecurity (for Pros!) report.
The report, released by cybersecurity firm Recorded Future on Tuesday, alleged that public security groups in Xinjiang purchased almost 500 hard disk drives from U.S. companies Seagate and Western Digital throughout the first half of 2022, including drives used for surveillance purposes. The researchers also alleged that Xinjiang prisons have purchased these devices.
BAN TIKTOK: The U.S. should ban TikTok, the popular social-media site owned by a Chinese company, a member of the Federal Communications Commission told Axios’ BETHANY ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN.
“I don’t believe there is a path forward for anything other than a ban,” said BRENDAN CARR, one of the five FCC commissioners, arguing that U.S. data flows back to China and that Beijing could use the app to influence the American electorate.
There isn’t “a world in which you could come up with sufficient protection on the data that you could have sufficient confidence that it’s not finding its way back into the hands of the [Chinese Communist Party],” Carr told Axios.
The Council on Foreign Investment in the U.S. is currently in talks with TikTok about how it can safely operate in the United States.
MISSILE FUNDING, PLEASE: Lawmakers aren’t pleased with the Biden administration’s plans to shelve a sea-launched cruise missile and retire a Cold War-era gravity bomb, our friends over at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report.
The Nuclear Posture Review released last week said the nuclear cruise missile is “no longer necessary” after the 2020 deployment of the W76-2 low-yield warhead on sub-launched ballistic missiles, and the B83 gravity bomb needs to be retired due to “increasing limitations on its capabilities and rising maintenance costs.”
The rationale regarding the cruise missile irked the arms control community, with one leading figure calling it a “stupid argument and it goes against Biden’s criticism of the W76-2 during the [presidential] campaign.”
But lawmakers are trying to keep the cruise missile program alive after Biden requested no funding in its fiscal 2023 budget proposal in March. The House-passed NDAA and the Senate version of the bill authorize $45 million to continue development of the cruise missile and its warhead.
NO UNCLASSIFIED SPACE REVIEW: There won’t be an unclassified version of the Strategic Space Review released to the public, Breaking Defense’s THERESA HITCHENS reports.
But the review has been signed out by Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN and Director of National Intelligence AVRIL HAINES and sent to the White House. National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN ordered the review.
The Pentagon says the reason for the secrecy is that the Space Review wasn’t mandated by law — it was just an internal policy assessment.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– LAWMAKERS BACK USING RUSSIAN ASSETS FOR UKRAINE: A bipartisan octet from the House will show their support for transferring the seized assets of Russian oligarchs to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction in a statement to be released Tuesday evening.
“We call on Congressional leadership to make every effort to include our bipartisan language allowing transfer to Ukraine of forfeited assets of Putin-connected kleptocrats. This effort was bipartisan from the get-go and remains so,” the lawmakers from the Helsinki Commission and Counter-Kleptocracy Caucus say in the joint statement.
The lawmakers: Reps. STEVE COHEN (D-Tenn.), JOE WILSON (R-S.C.), BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-Penn.), TOM MALINOWSKI (D-N.J.), PETER MEIJER (R-Mich.), MARIA SALAZAR (R-Fla.), ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-Va.) and DAN CRENSHAW (R-Texas).
Their measures on this issue — like the Asset Seizure for Ukraine Reconstruction Act and the Oligarch Assets for Ukrainian Victory Act — passed as part of the House National Defense Authorization Act in July, but some House and Senate Republicans oppose them.
The House members want to show there is bipartisan support for the legislation and push for its passage in the final defense bill. “With the inclusion of this provision, we would ensure that Putin’s corrupt cronies pay for part of Ukraine’s reconstruction,” they say.
GOP RESPONDS TO UKRAINE REQUEST: Some Republicans are upset that Ukraine is seeking sustained economic assistance alongside more weapons, especially following Alex and Nahal’s Monday story.
“Cash. They want cash. Maybe we should balance our own budget before funding the governments of countries oceans away?” tweeted MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.), a close ally of former President DONALD TRUMP.
NED RYUN, CEO of American Majority, a conservative group that trains candidates and activists, tweeted that Zelenskyy should “get bent, you little runt.”
Republicans and Democrats NatSec Daily have spoken to believe that a vast majority of lawmakers will support more aid to Ukraine. But there’s clearly a vocal contingent on the right that is resistant to providing Kyiv with more funds.
PYONGYANG CLAPS BACK: North Korea warned that “more powerful follow-up measures” may be taken in response to the expansive military drills being conducted this week by the U.S. and South Korea, BBC News’ YVETTE TAN reports.
The authoritarian regime’s foreign ministry claimed the joint military exercises, which will continue through Friday, are practice for a potential invasion. The Vigilant Storm drills are the largest ever between the two countries, with around 240 aircraft and thousands of military personnel from the U.S. and South Korea performing roughly 1,600 sorties.
— FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: JONATHAN “JONNY” POWELL has been named senior adviser and speechwriter for Deputy Secretary of State WENDY SHERMAN, our own DANIEL LIPPMAN has learned. He most recently was director of speechwriting at the Department of Homeland Security and is also an alum of Speaker NANCY PELOSI, former Secretary of State JOHN KERRY and former Commerce Secretary PENNY PRITZKER.
— JAMAL BROWN is joining TikTok to manage policy communications for the Americas, primarily focusing on the United States. Brown was previously deputy press secretary at the Pentagon and served as Biden’s campaign national press secretary.
— RYAN HEATH, POLITICO: ‘I Seethe Every Time I Think About It’: 2 Foreign Policy Dynamos Confront the Male World Order
— COURTNEY McBRIDE, Bloomberg News: Griner Case Tests Deal-Making in Biden’s Push to Free Captives Held by US Foes
— KRISTIN SMITH DIWAN, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington: Saudi Arabia’s New Nationalist Foreign Policy
— The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, 9 a.m.: “Arab-U.S. Uncertainties and Constants: What Lies Ahead?”
— The Institute of World Politics, 4:30 p.m.: “Avenging 9/11: CIA’s Team Alpha”
— The Atlantic Council, 2:30 p.m.: By the numbers: How China and Taiwan perform in country indexes
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