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Overnight Defense: Trump open to direct talks with North Korea | Pentagon audit to cost $367M in 2018 | Trump expected to extend Iran sanctions relief

Overnight Defense: Trump open to direct talks with North Korea | Pentagon audit to cost $367M in 2018 | Trump expected to extend Iran sanctions relief
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THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE on Wednesday told his South Korean counterpart that he's open to talks with North Korea, following the two Koreas' Olympics-focused talks this week.

The Hill's Jordan Fabian reports:

President Trump told South Korea's leader on Wednesday he's open to direct talks with North Korea over its nuclear program, according to the White House.

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"President Trump expressed his openness to holding talks between the United States and North Korea at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances," the White House said in a statement detailing Trump's phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

At the same time, the leaders stressed "the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea."

The conversation is the latest sign that Trump is slowly, and cautiously, warming up to talks with Pyongyang in order to resolve the nuclear crisis between the two countries.

Read the rest here.

 

The White House also confirmed Wednesday that Vice President Pence will lead the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The trip will also include stops in Alaska to review a missile defense site and Japan to reassure the ally of U.S. commitment. The Hill's Jordan Fabian has that news here.

 

PENTAGON AUDIT TO COST $367M IN 2018: The Pentagon's much-anticipated first full financial audit is underway, but it's going to cost millions of dollars upfront.

Pentagon comptroller David Norquist detailed the costs to the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

The Hill's Ellen Mitchell has the info:

The Pentagon's first full-scale audit will cost about $367 million in fiscal 2018 and an additional $551 million to fix identified problems, Norquist told lawmakers Wednesday.

Norquist said the amount includes $181 million to pay independent accounting firms and $186 million for related infrastructure, including the cost of the salaries for people supporting the audit.

"The $181 million in audit contract costs is one-thirtieth of 1 percent of the [Department of Defense] budget," Norquist said. "In addition, we anticipate spending about $551 million in 2018 fixing problems identified by the auditors."

When asked to respond to criticisms that the effort would cost the government too much, Norquist replied that the price tag is small compared to the Pentagon's overall budget and is better than "operating in ignorance."

Read the rest here.

 

REPORT SAYS TRUMP EXPECTED TO WAIVE IRAN SANCTIONS: President Trump is expected this week to continue sanctions relief for Iran as part of the landmark nuclear deal, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The president will cite progress being made on legislation that would heed his call to fix what he sees as problems with the deal, according to the AP, which cited six unnamed sources familiar with the administration's deliberations.

Trump, who sources cautioned could still reject the recommendation to waive sanctions, is likely to pair his decision with new, targeted sanctions, the AP reported.

Trump faces a Friday deadline over whether to continue waiving sanctions that were lifted as part of the 2015 accord between the United States, Iran, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Read more here.

 

DEM SAYS IRAN LEGISLATION NOT CLOSE: Over on Capitol Hill, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Wednesday that he and the committee's chairman are not close to an agreement on Iran legislation as a deadline approaches for President Trump to kill the nuclear deal or keep it afloat.

"We've had very positive discussions, but no, we have not," Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dem senator: Trump accepts Saudi denials because he is 'enamored' with dictators Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Md.) told reporters when asked if he and committee chairman Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Trump shifts tone on Saudis | New pressure from lawmakers | Trump: 'Certainly looks' like Khashoggi dead | Pompeo gives Saudis days to wrap up investigation | Trump threatens military action on border to stop migrants Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE (R-Tenn.) have come to an understanding on the terms of the legislation.

"Someone asked me, 'Would you consider it a framework of issues,' and I said, 'That's accurate.' We know what areas we have to deal with, but there's not been language that has been even shopped at this stage."

Read more from Cardin here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear from a State Department official on the U.S. policy in Syria after Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. http://bit.ly/2E9FeGL

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: 'Star Wars' references scrubbed from Defense memo on cloud computing

-- The Hill: Pentagon identifies soldier in anti-ISIS coalition who died

-- Military Times: Trump says no 'big-ass fight' looming, but top Marine disagrees

-- The Washington Post: Senior Pentagon soldier warns ISIS: Quit or be shot in the face, beaten with entrenching tools

-- Associated Press: Russian gains in Syria threatened by series of rebel attacks

-- Reuters: Trump urged by top advisers to waive Iran sanctions: official