Overnight Defense: Trump pulls US out of Iran nuke deal | Reaction and fallout | Obama calls decision a ‘serious mistake’ | Show of force for CIA pick | New questions after briefing on Niger
THE TOPLINE: President Trump on Tuesday announced that he is pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal.
“I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said from the Diplomatic Room in the White House.
The move kept a promise he made on the campaign trail and also delivered a blow to his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who negotiated the deal.
Trump announced he has decided against continuing to waive sanctions as laid out in a 2015 pact between the United States, Iran, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and the European Union.
Trump said he would sign an order to “begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions” on Iran and also promised to impose “the highest level of economic sanctions,” including measures that could target nations doing business with Iran.
Trump had faced a Saturday deadline to renew the waivers on oil and banking sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal. The deal provided Tehran billions in sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.
His reason for withdrawing: Trump said the U.S. cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb “under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” calling the deal made under President Obama “defective at its core.”
Trump had already begun laying the groundwork for exiting. In January, he promiised that it would be last time he waived sanctions unless European allies agreed to a supplemental deal addressing what Trump sees as holes in the nuclear accord. No such deal was reached.
“Today’s action sends a critical message: the United States no longer makes empty threats,” Trump said Tuesday. “When I make promises, I keep them.”
World leaders’ react: United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement denouncing Trump’s decision and said they would continue sanctions relief for Iran.
“Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld, and will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement,” they said.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s move.
“Israel fully supports President Trump’s bold decision today to reject the disastrous nuclear deal with the terrorist regime in Tehran,” Netanyahu said in a televised address, minutes after Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal.
Obama reacts: Former President Obama on Tuesday called Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement “misguided” and a “serious mistake.”
“Without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East,” Obama said in a statement, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal’s formal name.
Washington’s reaction: Democrats swiftly condemned Trump’s declaration, casting the decision as a perilous abdication of American leadership and a slight against allies.
“With this decision President Trump is risking U.S. national security, recklessly upending foundational partnerships with key U.S. allies in Europe and gambling with Israel’s security,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
“Today’s withdrawal from the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] makes it more likely Iran will restart its nuclear weapons program in the future.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, slammed Trump for the decision, saying “it took years” to form the agreement and that the administration doesn’t have a plan going forward.
Biden, who helped negotiate the accord, suggested that the Trump administration would be hard-pressed to more effectively curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry also bashed Trump’s decision, saying the move risks “dragging the world back to the brink” the U.S. faced before the deal was made.
And Iran says it will still adhere to the deal despite Trump: In a sign that Iran is not ready to walk away from the deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday ahead of Trump’s announcement that Iran wants to keep “working with the world and constructive engagement with the world.”
After Trump’s speech, Rouhani confirmed Iran would continue in the deal without the United States. He also slammed Trump’s decision, saying the United States “never adhered to its commitments.”
“We can clearly see which country is not respecting the international commitments,” Rouhani said during a televised speech in Tehran.
Dems made last-minute pitch: A dozen leading Senate Democrats wrote Trump on Monday to urge him not to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, but to no avail.
“If the United States unilaterally withdraws from the [nuclear accord], Iran could either remain in the agreement and seek to isolate the United States from our closest partners, or resume its nuclear activities. Either scenario would be detrimental to our national security interests,” the senators wrote.
That was in addition to urgings from British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to stay in the deal.
SHOW OF FORCE FOR CIA NOMINEE: Dozens of former U.S. national security officials and lawmakers have signed on to a letter endorsing President Trump’s controversial pick to lead the CIA, a show of support that comes on the eve of Deputy Director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing.
Thirty-six former CIA chiefs, intelligence community leaders and lawmakers signed on to the letter that is addressed to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill.
Who signed the letter: The top signatories include former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael Rogers (R-Mich.), former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.
The big picture: The letter comes as Haspel preps for a Wednesday grilling before the Senate Intelligence Committee. She will face tough questions about her role in the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques after 9/11.
More on Haspel: Trump praised Haspel on Twitter, saying that the CIA wanted her to lead it into “America’s bright and glorious future.”
The Senate’s No.2 Republican, John Cornyn (Texas) defended Haspel and said Democrats had already “smeared” one nominee.
The mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks wants to share information with senators about CIA nominee Gina Haspel.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) said he would vote against Haspel. “I’m not a huge fan of waterboarding,” he told CNN. Tester is up for reelection in a state that Trump won.
AIR FORCE HALTS FLYING FOR ONE DAY: The Air Force on Tuesday said it was ordering a one-day safety review for all flying and maintenance wings by May 21.
“I am directing this operational safety review to allow our commanders to assess and discuss the safety of our operations and to gather feedback from our airmen who are doing the mission every day,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a statement.
“After a series of recent aviation mishaps and fatalities” – including a WC-130 Hercules crash last week that killed nine airmen from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard – “the Air Force is taking swift action to ensure the safety of its force,” according to Goldfein.
But service plays down crashes: Following the review’s announcement, Air Staff Chief of Safety Maj. Gen. John Rauch told reporters that the one day of standing down aircraft “probably won’t solve the problem,” but it gives airmen “a chance to identify issues that they can elevate up to the [major command] if necessary.”
He said so far there is no overarching trend in the cause for the spike in crashes, and that Class A accidents – those that result in a death – are down over the past decade, according to safety statistics.
He added that there will not be a final report released to the public, but “there will be an option” for the Air Force to share the review with other services.
The statistics: The Air Force has suffered a spate of aircraft accidents and mishaps in the past year, including four that have killed 18 airmen and crew.
Prior to the cargo plane crash in Georgia, there was a T-38 crash that killed a pilot in November in Texas, a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crash in western Iraq in March that killed all seven on board, and an F-16 crash in Nevada in April that resulted in the pilot’s death.
Aircraft accidents across the military, meanwhile, have risen almost 40 percent from 2013 to 2017 with at least 133 deaths, according to a Military Times investigation released last month.
Air Force incidents were up 16 percent in that time period, during which budget cuts known as sequestration took effect.
Deadly military aviation accidents overall are at a six-year high.
NEW QUESTIONS AFTER CLOSED DOOR BRIEFING ON NIGER: Senators emerged from a closed-door briefing Tuesday on the investigation into the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers questioning the broader mission there, including whether the Pentagon has concealed from Congress the true nature of its operations in Africa.
“That was a very explosive briefing,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters. “I have deep questions on whether the military is following instructions and limitations that Congress has laid down about the mission of these troops in Africa, and I’ve had those questions, and I think this hearing raised a lot more in a pretty explosive way.”
Calling the idea that the troops were on a train-and-equip mission a “fig leaf,” Kaine added that the briefing “raises questions about why people are hiding from us what they’re doing.”
Asked directly if he thinks the military was hiding what it was doing from Congress, Kaine said simply, “Yeah.”
The briefing details: The Senate Armed Services Committee received a briefing from Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command; Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, who led the investigation into the ambush; Robert Karem, assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs; and Owen West, assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.
The reactions: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said the briefing showed “clearly some things, in terms of their concept of operation, they made mistakes.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), meanwhile, said the briefing left him questioning whether the U.S. presence in Africa needs to be drawn down, especially given the administration’s stated National Defense Strategy of moving from counterterrorism to so-called great power competition.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), though, came away from the briefing with the opposite takeaway. Inhofe previously asked the Army to send a special brigade of about 500 soldiers to Africa and said Tuesday the briefing, particularly a 21-minute video that was shown, reinforced his position on the need for that.
BORDER DEPLOYMENT RAISES ISSUES FOR PENTAGON: One month after President Trump‘s unexpected move to deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, the Pentagon is quietly pushing ahead in moving thousands of troops and equipment south.
At least 1,500 guardsmen have now been sent to the border to curtail a “surge of illegal activity,” according to Trump, amid outstanding questions about the cost of the endeavor, how long troops will stay and how warranted the move is.
The complaints: Rep. Vicente González (D-Texas), whose district includes a stretch along the southern border, said he’s seen no real change on the ground in his area since the Pentagon began sending troops last month.
“I’m all for security and law and order, but it’s just such a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars,” González told The Hill. “I haven’t seen any abrupt changes on the border. I’ve been here for the past week, so other than making political news, I haven’t seen any real changes on the ground.”
And California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last month said the state would accept funding for 400 Guard troops, but he said they wouldn’t all be sent to the border and stipulated conditions.
“This will not be a mission to build a new wall,” Brown wrote in a letter to Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”
The costs so far: It’s estimated that it will cost $182 million to keep 2,093 guardsmen at the border through the end of September, which represents just more than half of the personnel approved.
The amount covers $151 million in pay and allowances for the 2,093 personnel, as well as $31 million for 12,000 flying hours for 26 UH-72 Lakota helicopters, according to a defense memo on the amount.
The Pentagon has only approved the support through Sept. 30, though Trump has indicated the troops will stay at the border “until such time as we get the wall.”
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing for the nomination of Gina Haspel to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at 9:30 a.m. in Hart Senate Building, room 216.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will testify before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on the Defense Department’s fiscal 2019 budget request at 10 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 192.
The House Armed Services Committee will hold the markup of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act starting at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118.
A Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subpanel will hold a hearing on U.S. spending in Afghanistan at 2:30 p.m. in Dirksen 342.
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