THE TOPLINE: A South Korean delegation visited North Korea on Monday and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over dinner, becoming the first South Korean officials to meet with Kim since he took power in 2011.
The visit was aimed at improving inter-Korea relations and helping start a dialogue between the United States and North Korea.
It comes after a North Korean delegation visited the South during the Winter Olympics, with the sports diplomacy allowing for a thaw in tensions on the peninsula.
Both the Trump administration and the Kim regime have expressed openness to talks. But the United States has insisted the talks be aimed at North Korea's denuclearization, which Pyongyang rejects as an unacceptable precondition.
ICYMI: TRUMP'S NORTH KOREA COMMENTS AT GRIDIRON DINNER: At the annual Gridiron Dinner on Saturday, Trump spoke about his willingness to hold talks with North Korea, but said the rogue regime must "de-nuke."
"I won't rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un. I just won't," Trump said, following up with a self-deprecating joke: "As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that's his problem, not mine."
A little bit later, Trump added: "And they, by the way, called up a couple of days ago and said, 'We would like to talk.' And I said, 'So would we, but you have to de-nuke, you have to de-nuke.'"
US, SOUTH KOREA BEGIN TALKS ON SHARING MILITARY COSTS: The United States and South Korea will begin negotiating this week a new cost-sharing agreement for basing U.S. troops in South Korea, Seoul said Monday.
"The two sides will discuss to produce a reasonable pact that can help strengthen the joint defense readiness of South Korea and the U.S. and be accepted by our people," the South Korean Foreign Ministry said, according to Yonhap news agency.
The negotiations come at a critical time for the alliance, with North Korea making rapid progress on its nuclear and missile programs. President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE has spoken about wanting South Korea to take on a greater share of the cost of deploying U.S. troops there.
Under a cost-sharing deal reached in 2014, Seoul paid $867 million toward U.S. military costs that year, and its share has risen each year based on inflation. This year, South Korea is paying about $890 million, a little less than half of the total.
The current deal, the ninth since 1991, expires Dec. 31. The first round of negotiations for the 10th deal will take place Wednesday through Friday in Honolulu, according to the foreign ministry.
US AIRCRAFT CARRIER ARRIVES IN VIETNAM: Elsewhere in Asia, the USS Carl Vinson arrived in Danang, Vietnam, on Monday for the first port visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the country since the end of the Vietnam War more than 40 years ago.
The visit, which is being billed by U.S. officials as a historic chance to build relationships with the Vietnamese, is being interpreted as a message to Beijing as the U.S. seeks to bulk up its presence and influence in the South China Sea.
"The visit marks an enormously significant milestone in our bilateral relations and demonstrates U.S. support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam," U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink said in a statement Monday. "Through hard work, mutual respect and by continuing to address the past while we work toward a better future, we have gone from former enemies to close partners."
Danang is the city where 3,500 Marines landed in March 1965 as the first American ground troops in the Vietnam War.
ISIS RELEASES PURPORTED VIDEO OF NIGER ATTACK: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has released a new propaganda video that includes alleged helmet camera footage of the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters Monday that the Defense Department is aware of the video but had not yet verified it.
U.S. Africa Command has been investigating the ambush. The results of the investigation are now being reviewed by Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE and are expected to be released later this month.
COCHRAN TO RESIGN FROM SENATE: Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom line Bottom line Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE (R-Miss.) on Monday announced he will resign from the Senate next month, saying his "health has become an ongoing challenge."
"I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to the people of Mississippi and the Senate through the completion of the 2018 appropriations cycle, after which I will formally retire from the U.S. Senate," Cochran said in a statement.
He is set to resign from his seat on April 1, according to his office.
Cochran is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as well as its defense subcommittee. His announcement comes as Congress aims to pass a mammoth government funding bill by March 23, and after months of speculation about his health.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva, Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerWhite House scrambles to avert supply chain crisis We cannot miss this big moment for national service Four big takeaways from a tough hearing for Facebook MORE (R-Miss.), Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithFacebook's the latest example that we must rewrite laws on corporate harm Overnight Defense & National Security — US attempts to mend ties with France Pentagon requires COVID-19 vaccines for civilian employees by Nov. 22 MORE (D-Wash.) and others will speak at the McAleese/Credit Suisse 2019 Defense Programs Conference starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday in Washington. http://bit.ly/2oRJ7dq
The Senate Armed Services Committee has two hearings:
-- Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race Cyber preparedness could save America's 'unsinkable aircraft carrier' MORE, director of national intelligence, and Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, will testify before the full committee on worldwide threats at 9:30 a.m. in the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. http://bit.ly/2FgPDRH
-- A subcommittee will hear from defense officials on Navy and Marine Corps aviation programs at 2:30 p.m. in the Russell Senate Office Building, room 232-A. http://bit.ly/2FuTHkG
The House Armed Services Committee has three hearings:
-- Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, will testify before the full committee at 10 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. http://bit.ly/2FWR1dt
-- A subcommittee will hear from Navy officials on the service's fiscal 2019 budget request for seapower and projection forces at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2118. http://bit.ly/2Fp3hFU
-- Another subcommittee will hear from defense officials on Marine Corps readiness at 3:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2212. http://bit.ly/2FfWz1K
-- The Hill Ben & Jerry's co-founder arrested at fighter plane protest
-- The Hill: White House condemns Russia over carnage in key Syria stronghold
-- The Hill: Opinion: Putin's nuclear posturing part of effort to win back displeased public
-- Marine Corps Times: Racial slur posted on Marine base movie theater sign
-- Associated Press: Pentagon: Operations against IS in eastern Syria 'paused'
-- The Washington Post: After reports of chemical attacks, White House considers new military action against Syrian regime