Overnight Defense: Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital | Mattis, Tillerson reportedly opposed move | Pentagon admits 2,000 US troops are in Syria | Trump calls on Saudis to 'immediately' lift Yemen blockade

Overnight Defense: Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital | Mattis, Tillerson reportedly opposed move | Pentagon admits 2,000 US troops are in Syria | Trump calls on Saudis to 'immediately' lift Yemen blockade
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THE TOPLINE: President Trump reversed longstanding U.S. policy on Wednesday and announced that the country will recognize the Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The Hill's Jordan Fabian reports:

Trump on Wednesday recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announced plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy there, a decision that could inflame tensions in the region and throw a wrench in potential peace negotiations.

"I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump said during a speech in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.

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Trump, who has vowed to broker a historic peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, declared he will try to resolve one of history's oldest conflicts his way, arguing that past approaches, such as delaying the recognition, have not worked.

"It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result," he said, calling his announcement "a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and work towards a lasting agreement."

Trump also directed the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as mandated by a 1995 law that has been waived by the past three presidents on national security grounds.

But U.S. officials say the move could take years to complete and Trump signed the embassy waiver, which officially puts off the move for another six months.

Nonetheless, Trump's announcement is his boldest foray yet into the Middle East.

Read the rest here.

 

MATTIS, TILLERSON REPORTEDLY OPPOSED DECISION: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet Mattis doesn't mention Russia by name at meeting with Balkan officials: report Trump references ‘legitimate media and fake-news media’ at meeting with NATO leader MORE and Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonUS steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business Matt Drudge shares mock ‘Survivor’ cover suggesting more White House officials will leave this summer 'Daily Show' trolls Trump over Pruitt's resignation MORE both reportedly opposed the Jerusalem decision over security concerns, though both would not publicly say.

Via The Hill's Ellen Mitchell:

Mattis and Tillerson both expressed to Trump that moving the embassy would endanger American diplomats and troops stationed in the Middle East and Muslim countries, The Associated Press reported.

Reuters also reported that Tillerson and Mattis opposed the move from Tel Aviv, citing U.S. officials.

Tillerson, in a statement released after the announcement, said that the safety of Americans is the State Department's highest priority, and it had "implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions," prior to Trump's decision.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Tuesday told reporters that Tillerson had "made his positions clear to the White House," on moving Israel's U.S. embassy, but would not say whether the secretary agreed with Trump's decision.

Mattis also dodged questions from reporters Tuesday while returning from a trip to the Middle East and Africa.

The retired four-star general said he met with Trump "late last week" over the matter and the two had an "open discussion" that "went on for some time."

Read more here.

 

MORE ON TRUMP'S JERUSALEM DECISION:

The Memo: Five takeaways from Trump's Jerusalem speech

Emergency UN Security Council meeting called after Trump's Jerusalem announcement: report

US Embassy in Jordan warns of violent protests after Jerusalem move

Netanyahu: Trump's Jerusalem announcement marks 'historic day'

France's Macron criticizes Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

British PM criticizes Trump for 'unhelpful' decision on Jerusalem

Trump has yet to name ambassadors to key nations in Mideast

 

TRUMP CALLS ON SAUDIS TO LIFT YEMEN BLOCKADE: President Trump on Wednesday said he's directed his administration to push Saudi Arabia to completely lift its blockade on war-torn Yemen.

"I have directed officials in my administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it," Trump said in a brief statement Wednesday. "This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately."

Last month, Saudi Arabia ramped up its blockade on Yemen after Houthi rebels fired a missile on the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Under international pressure, Saudi Arabia partially lifted the blockade, and the first aid shipments since the blockade arrived last week.

Read the rest here.

 

AIR FORCES CHANGES CRIMINAL REPORTING PROCEDURES: Following the failure to report last month's Texas shooter to a criminal database and several similar oversights, the Air Force says it has made changes to ensure records are reported.

The Hill's Ellen Mitchell writes:

The top Air Force civilian told lawmakers Wednesday that the military branch has taken steps to ensure that criminal records make it into federal databases, after a mass shooting in Texas last month at the hands of a former serviceman.

"Since the tragedy, the Air Force has implemented additional measures to ensure current and future offender criminal history data is submitted to federal law enforcement agencies in a timely manner," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the Senate Judiciary Committee in prepared testimony.

Wilson said the Air Force has added steps that require local offices to notify higher levels of command before closing criminal cases.

Read more here.

 

PENTAGON ACKNOWLEDGES 2,000 TROOPS IN SYRIA: Months after Defense Secretary James Mattis promised to increase transparency on the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday there are four times more troops in Syria than previously stated.

The Hill's Ellen Mitchell reports:

The Defense Department on Wednesday acknowledged that the U.S. has roughly 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, four times more than what officials had claimed just a month ago.

The number does not represent an increase in troop levels in the country, a Pentagon spokesman said, but instead reflects a more accurate count. The U.S. military had as recently as November said the official troop count in Syria was 503.

Army Col. Rob Manning told reporters that troop numbers are actually "trending downward" in Syria, with the recent departure of 400 artillery Marines. Those forces left the country after helping local forces retake the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) one-time de facto capital of Raqqa.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on counterterrorism in Africa with testimony from State Department and Pentagon officials at 9:30 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. http://bit.ly/2ke4LtH

The military service secretaries and the under secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on acquisition reform at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. http://bit.ly/2j6Tubb

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Trump says government shutdown 'could happen'

-- The Hill: GOP chairman warns of ISIS's 'cyber caliphate'

-- The Hill: US bombers to fly over Korean peninsula: report

-- Military Times: Number of homeless vets rises for first time in seven years

-- Stars and Stripes: No plans to evacuate families off Korean Peninsula, US military says

 

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com, and Ellen Mitchell, emitchell@thehill.com.

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