Overnight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill
Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.
THE TOPLINE: It’s been about two weeks since President Trump announced he was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and left the world wondering where U.S. strategy goes from here.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to answer that question.
In a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation — his first major foreign policy address since becoming chief diplomat — Pompeo vowed to do three things: impose the “strongest sanctions in history,” “crush” Iranian aggression and “advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people.”
Through that, he said, the administration hopes for a new deal that covers 12 areas, though he said “the deal is not the objective.”
What are the 12 things?: Per Pompeo, the United States is demanding that Iran:
— Give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program.
— Stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing, including closing its heavy water reactor.
— Provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country.
— End ballistic missile proliferation and halt development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
— Release all U.S. citizens, as well as citizens of partners and allies.
— End support to terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
— Respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government, including by permitting the disarming, demobilization and reintegration of Shia militias.
— End support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen and work towards a peaceful political settlement in that country.
— Withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria.
— End support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan.
— End the Quds Force’s support for terrorists and militant partners around the world.
— Stop threatening behavior against its neighbors, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Cheers and jeers: Reaction stateside fell along typical fault lines. Groups who opposed the Iran nuclear deal were supportive of Pompeo’s speech, while those who support the deal blasted the speech.
For example, on one hand, from United Against Nuclear Iran CEO Mark Wallace: “Secretary Pompeo wisely made the case that the United States needed to tackle the danger from Iran in a comprehensive manner. For too long, the United States has focused on the nuclear file to the exclusion of a wide array of additional problematic activity.”
And on the other, from Jamal Abdi, vice president for policy of the National Iranian American Council: “The Trump administration is setting the stage for a war of choice with Iran, with Mike Pompeo offering a smokescreen of diplomacy to distract from the administration’s pursuit of Iraq-style regime change.”
Global reaction: Iran, not surprisingly, rejected Pompeo’s speech.
“Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?” President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying in Iranian state media.
Britain Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, meanwhile, was skeptical at the ability of the United States to get such a comprehensive deal.
“The prospect of a new jumbo Iran treaty is going to be very, very difficult,” Johnson said. “I think if you try now to fold all those issues – the ballistic missiles, Iran’s misbehavior, Iran’s disruptive activity in the region and the nuclear question – if you try to fold all those into a giant negotiation, a new jumbo Iran negotiation, a new treaty – that’s what seems to be envisaged – I don’t see that being very easy to achieve, in anything like a reasonable timetable.”
Pentagon’s role: Pompeo promised to work closely with the Pentagon on Iranian aggression.
When asked what that might look like Monday, a Pentagon spokesman hinted at a more aggressive posture.
“We are going to take steps necessary to address Iran’s malign influence in the region,” Defense Department spokesman Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.
“They are a destabilizing force in the region … and we’re going to do everything we can to avert that,” Manning added. “This is a whole of government solution that we’re working in order to change Iran’s influence in the region and we’re continuing to do that.”
DEFENSE BILL WATCH: It’s a busy week for movement on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with the House version set to hit the floor and the Senate Armed Services Committee starting markups on its version.
The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell took a look at how this year’s Senate process feels different without a certain feisty chairman in town:
The Senate Armed Services Committee is moving forward with its annual defense authorization bill with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) undergoing treatment to battle brain cancer 2,200 miles away in Arizona.
McCain for the last several years has been the major force behind crafting the NDAA and moving it through committee, the rest of the Senate and negotiations with the House.
His convictions on curtailing program overruns and eliminating wasteful spending have earned him a reputation as a force to be reckoned with among Pentagon officials and defense contractors.
As the committee now takes up this year’s NDAA, his absence has been felt, according to lawmakers.
“It’s a challenge simply because it’s a little bit different having the chairman physically removed,” the committee’s ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said of the bill’s process.
“[McCain is] someone with such great experience and expertise. He is participating through his staff and as a result he’s been able to provide, as he used to do, direction.”
In the House: The House Rules Committee is in the midst of a meeting to set up floor debate on the NDAA (along with two other bills).
It’s set to meet again Tuesday afternoon to decide which of the hundreds of amendments will make it to a floor vote.
As of 5:30 p.m., 571 amendments have been filed on the bill. Follow along at the Rules Committee website.
MORE BAD STATS FOR AFGHANISTAN: Another watchdog is out with another report casting a dim outlook on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
The quarterly inspector general report on the U.S. mission in Afghanistan said there has been “minimal progress” in securing the Afghan population since its last report. The report is written by the inspectors general for the Pentagon, State Department and U.S Agency for International Aid.
As of Jan. 31, 65 percent of the Afghan population lived under government control or influence, compared with 64 percent last quarter. The Taliban, meanwhile, kept control of the same percentage as last quarter, 12 percent.
The inspector general’s report comes after one from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction finding high attrition in Afghan forces.
Read Monday’s full report here.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Senate Armed Services Committee has closed markups of the National Defense Authorization Act for five subcommittees: seapower, readiness, cybersecurity, emerging threats and strategic forces. https://bit.ly/2HLYU9T
The Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee has an open markup of the National Defense Authorization Act at 2:30 p.m. at the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. https://bit.ly/2HLYU9T
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a business meeting for a treaty and legislation, including a resolution to require a certification on Saudi actions in Yemen, at 2:15 p.m. at the Senate site of the Capitol, room 116. https://bit.ly/2Lh4mQa
The House Rules Committee will meet to decide which National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendments get a floor vote at 3 p.m. at the House side of the Capitol, room 313. https://bit.ly/2KLorgz
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