OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Kerry pleads for patience on new Iran sanctions

The Topline: Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Biden once again tried to convince Congress on Wednesday that it should wait before moving new Iran sanctions legislation.

But they faced an even more skeptical audience than when they made the same plea two weeks ago.

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Kerry told reporters before heading into the briefing that Congress should “calm down” and wait a few weeks to see whether a deal can be struck between the six world powers and Iran.

“What we’re asking everybody to do is calm down, look hard at what can be achieved and what the realities are,” Kerry said.

“If sanctions were to be increased, there are members of that coalition who have put it in place who would think we’re dealing in bad faith, and they would bolt,” he said.

Kerry is making the push as lawmakers from both parties are balking at the details included in the Obama administration’s offer during last week’s Geneva talks.

Critics say Iran would be getting too much sanctions relief without a full suspension of its enrichment activities.

Republicans left the briefing appearing unconvinced by Kerry’s arguments.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Banking panel, said he was “very disappointed.”

“It was solely an emotional appeal,” Corker said, adding that “generally speaking” Kerry and others told lawmakers to trust them.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the coauthor of sanctions legislation that cleared the Senate unanimously two years ago, said the administration has “very low credibility” with lawmakers.

Kirk vowed to use “every method I have as a senator” to move new legislation imposing tougher sanctions on Iran, including potentially as an amendment to the defense authorization bill expected to be on the floor next week.

Democrats, meanwhile, were tight-lipped after leaving the meeting.

The Senate Banking Committee held off on pursuing new sanctions legislation before the last round of talks, and Senate Democratic leaders are now weighing their next steps.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to answer questions on sanctions legislation, and Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said he was “undecided” about moving a new sanctions bill.

DOD cuts ties with Russian weapons maker: The Pentagon has officially cut ties with Russian arms supplier Rosoboronexport, drawing praise from lawmakers who slammed the company's ties to the Syrian regime. 

The decision effectively cuts off the Pentagon's supply of Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, used by American military advisers to outfit Afghanistan's nascent air force. 

But the Defense Department's long-standing deal with the Russian weapons maker drew immediate scrutiny from Capitol Hill after details emerged on Rosoboronexport's weapon sales to Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who spearheaded the effort to ramp up the political pressure on the Pentagon to end its relationship with the Russian firm, praised the Pentagon's decision. 

“I applaud the Defense Department’s decision to finally cancel its plan to buy additional helicopters from Rosoboronexport," he said in a statement to The Hill. 

But the move puts the department in a difficult position as it prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan. 

Since June, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have taken the lead in combat operations in the country, as part of the White House's plan to have all combat troops out of the country by 2014. 

While Afghan forces have held their own on the battlefield against the Taliban and other militant extremist groups, continued operational gaps in air support continue to plague ANSF units. 

That said, the key to closing that gap is the Mi-17, according to the Pentagon's latest assessment report of the Afghan war. "The Mi-17 is the workhorse of the [Afghan air force]," according to the report. 

Gillibrand weighs narrowing sex assault bill: In an effort to reach 60 votes, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is considering narrowing her sexual assault legislation.

Gillibrand said Wednesday that she might change her bill that removes the decision to prosecute cases from commanders so that it only covers rape and sexual assault cases, rather than all non-military crimes that carry a penalty of at least one year.

The potential change was prompted by senators sitting on the fence, Gillibrand said, as she works to secure 60 votes for her measure.

“We’re considering focusing the amendment on sexual assault and rape in response to some suggestions by undecided senators,” Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand is expected to offer her measure as an amendment to the defense authorization bill next week, where she is expected to need 60 votes for it to pass.

It is opposed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Pentagon leaders.

Marines run security ops in Philippines: Marine Corps units are working hand in hand with Philippine forces to restore security in areas in the central part of the country hardest hit by Typhoon Hayian.

Units from the Marines's 3rd Expeditionary Brigade are looking to lock down coastal areas in and around the city of Tacloban as part of U.S.-led disaster relief areas in the Philippines, a senior White House official said Wednesday. 

Sporadic violence by armed looters, looking to secure the limited humanitarian aid deliveries trickling into Tacloban and elsewhere, have begun to pop up across the wide swath of the country ravaged by the typhoon. 

Those attacks, along with disease outbreaks caused by the unsanitary living conditions left behind in the wake of the storm, are the two biggest security concerns for U.S. and Filipino forces, according to the official. 

As a result, Marine Corps units are conducting security operations alongside their Filipino counterparts "to help them with that policing [mission]" the official added. 

That said, the official was adamant that American and Filipino forces would be able to maintain law and order in the area. 

"The security situation is well in hand," the official added. 

The typhoon, which slammed into the chain of islands in the central Philippines on Sunday, is reportedly the strongest to ever make landfall in the Pacific or elsewhere in the world. 

Current casualty reports show more than 1,000 perished in the massive storm, which reportedly took out whole villages and towns located in the coastal areas near the eye of the typhoon. 

Local government and humanitarian organizations fear the death toll could reach 10,000 as rescue and recovery efforts continue in the country.

 

In Case You Missed It: 

— Jury acquits Air Force officer in sexual assault case

— Air Force drafting long-term sequestration plan

— Rep. Frelinghuysen named new defense appropriations chief 

— Air service shakes up drone strategy, post-Afghanistan

— Kerry to Congress: 'Calm down' on Iran sanctions 

 

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