15 Jul 19
What’s on tap today: Trump’s team has settled on a package of sanctions to punish Turkey for receiving a Russian missile defense system, a recent drawdown of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq will effectively become permanent, and a majority of U.S. electoral districts rely on aging software systems that may not be secure.
U.S. readies sanctions. President Donald Trump’s team has settled on a package of punishing sanctions in response to the arrival in Turkey of components for a sophisticated Russian missile defense system that U.S. officials say threatens the F-35 fighter jet and NATO air defenses, Bloomberg reported Sunday, citing unidentified sources.
The administration reportedly wants to wait until after Monday’s anniversary of a 2016 coup attempt against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to announce the sanctions, to avoid fueling speculation that Washington was responsible for the uprising.
Trump is the wildcard. But the plan still needs Trump’s approval. The president himself, whose personal relationship with Erdogan has previously made for some unexpected policy shifts, is the wildcard here, Lara Seligman writes.
Better late than never? The administration seemed set to announce the sanctions and other punitive measures on Friday morning, as the first missile parts arrived in Turkey, but no official word ever came. The Pentagon scheduled a rare on-camera press briefing, presumably to discuss steps to officially kick Turkey out of the F-35 program, but the briefing was mysteriously delayed, then cancelled.
The silence fueled speculation over the weekend that Trump may delay or try to waive the planned sanctions. It’s also possible that Turkey threatened to block U.S. access to Incirlik air base, a key base for U.S. troops fighting in the Middle East that also houses U.S. nuclear weapons. One official told Seligman such a threat could give the administration pause.
Caught in the crossfire. Turkey appeared to amp up the pressure on Friday, preparing a large military deployment on the border with Syria ahead of what could be a new offensive into the eastern part of the country, where U.S. troops are located.
What We’re Watching
U.K. cables. A fresh batch of cables authored by British Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch, who has announced his resignation, hit the British media over the weekend. In a 2018 cable, Darroch wrote that the Trump administration’s decision to back out of the Iran nuclear pact represented an “an act of diplomatic vandalism, seemingly for ideological and personality reasons” driven by the fact that the agreement “was Obama’s deal.”
Soldier killed in Afghanistan. A highly decorated U.S. Special Forces soldier, Sgt. Maj. James Sartor, was killed in Afghanistan over the weekend. His death comes on the heels of remarks by Gen. Mark Milley during his confirmation hearing to become the next head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that it would be a “strategic mistake” to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
A different kind of drawdown. State Department officials tell Robbie Gramer that a recent partial evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Iraq will effectively become permanent, a move that could leave diplomats short-staffed to undertake important tasks like countering Iran on the diplomatic front—and in the short-term has marooned hundreds of diplomats in the Washington area.
Pentagon victory. A federal court cleared the Pentagon of charges that it had improperly favored Amazon in its consideration of a massive cloud computing contract. The ruling clears the way for the Pentagon to award the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract to either Amazon or Microsoft.
The F-117 stealth jet. Combat Aircraft has obtained images of an F-117 stealth jet, which was officially retired in 2008, flying above Death Valley, Calif. with a paint scheme that may indicate the plane is being used to mimic adversary stealth aircraft in exercises.
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Tanker release? British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said Britain “would facilitate” the release of a seized Iranian oil tanker if it receives sufficient assurances that the ship will not deliver its cargo to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a move that may help de-escalate an ongoing standoff between Tehran and the West.
Talking to the enemy. While the Trump administration has signalled its openness to talks with Iran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech that the United States must lift sanctions and return to the nuclear pact from which it walked away last year. But after threatening last month to him with sanctions, the United States approved a visa for Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to attend meetings in New York.
War authorization. The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed its version of the annual defense budget bill with a provision that requires congressional approval for war with Iran, setting up a confrontation with the Republican-controlled Senate.
North Korea Talks Reboot
Restarting talks? American negotiators are attempting to make good on Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un’s decision to restart working-level talks and have proposed that the two sides meet this week, Yonhap reports, but South Korean officials aren’t even sure talks will resume this month.
The new guy. If talks resume, Steve Biegun, the American North Korea envoy, will likely have a new counterpart across the table: Kim Myong Gil. Kim is an experienced North Korean diplomat and a veteran of negotiations with the United States, including the Agreed Framework talks of the 1990s and the more recent Six Party Talks, according to a 38 North profile.
Tech & Cyber
The surveillance industry. The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher reports that an American organization set up by IBM and Google has worked with a Chinese firm to build technology used in the Chinese government’s surveillance regime.
Palantir. Vice’s Motherboard obtained a user manual for a system deployed by tech giant Palantir and used by law enforcement agencies to scour huge datasets to find suspects and obtain intimate details about their lives.
Election security. An Associated Press investigation finds that a majority of U.S. electoral districts rely on old software systems that either already are or will soon be without security updates provided by their manufacturers.
Macron’s parade. French President Emmanuel Macron oversaw a review of his country’s armed forces during the annual Bastille Day celebrations, which this time included a man flying a jetpack holding an assault rifle.
Facial recognition. The New York Times’s Cade Metz checks in on facial recognition databases and finds that such systems are proliferating widley, have amassed huge datasets, and are being shared around the world, often in alarming ways.
Quote of the Week
Assad’s Syria. “If someone is annoyed with you, they write a report to the intelligence and then you will disappear … You will not reappear without a thousand connections.” –Rida, a 29-year-old father of three who has returned to Syria from Lebanon, describes the climate of fear that now pervades his country.
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