Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general

Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

 

THE TOPLINE: President Trump's pick to be ambassador to South Korea said Thursday that North Korea remains a nuclear threat to the U.S., contradicting remarks Trump made a day before.

"We have to continue to worry about that," retired Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing.

Harris was responding to a question from the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), who asked whether North Korea is still a nuclear threat.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea" following his summit earlier this week with leader Kim Jong Un.

On military exercises: Harris, the former head of U.S. Pacific Command, voiced support, however, for Trump's decision to temporarily suspend large-scale, joint military exercises with South Korea while negotiations with North Korea are ongoing.

Critics say that halting the "war games" with South Korea represents a disappointing concession to Kim.

But Harris said the United States should give major exercises "a pause to see if Kim Jong Un is in fact serious about his part of the negotiations."

Suspended indefinitely? Harris' hearing comes after a report broke Thursday that said the Pentagon has "suspended indefinitely" large-scale military exercises with South Korea

A U.S. official told Agence France-Presse that "major military exercises have been suspended indefinitely on the Korean peninsula."

The Pentagon has yet to release a statement on the matter.

Lawmakers want answers: Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is asking for answers from Secretary James Mattis on Trump's decision to suspend the drills.

"As you know, exercises build readiness, expand interoperability and promote cooperation with the allies and partners," Gallego wrote wrote Thursday in a letter to Mattis.

In his letter, Gallego said it is "distressing" that Trump did not consult South Korea "or even, apparently, leadership at the Pentagon."

He asked Mattis five questions, including whether he or the deputy Defense secretary were consulted ahead of time, whether he supports the cancelation and whether South Korea's defense minister, foreign affairs minister or president where consulted before the decision was made.

And McCain bashes move to halt exercises: GOP Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) blasted the Trump administration's decision to halt the military exercises.

"Suspending U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises is a mistake. Making unnecessary and unreciprocated concessions is not in our interests--and it is a bad negotiating tactic," McCain said in a statement on Thursday. 

He also knocked Trump for calling the war games with South Korea "provocative" saying the president was "parroting Chinese and North Korean propaganda."

"I continue to hope that President Trump will be successful in his diplomatic efforts to achieve the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But we must not impose upon ourselves the burden of providing so-called 'good faith' concessions as the price for continued dialogue," McCain added. 

 

DEFENSE POLICY BILL WATCH: The Senate voted Thursday 81-15 to end debate on the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, with a final passage vote expected Monday evening.

Senate sides with White House, votes down GOP plan: The Senate followed the Trump administration Thursday and did not advance a GOP provision that would have given lawmakers more oversight over deals between U.S. and foreign companies that might have impacted national security.

Lawmakers voted 35 to 62 on the legislation, brought up by Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), which involved the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Toomey wanted to require a rulemaking review for the CFIUS, which looks at national security when foreign firms attempt to takeover U.S. companies.

 

NORTH KOREA AIRS FOOTAGE OF TRUMP SALUTING MILITARY OFFICER: North Korean state media early Tuesday broadcast its first video of President Trump's historic summit with Kim Jong Un, including footage of Trump saluting a North Korean officer.

In parts of the lengthy, 42-minute long video from North Korea's KCTV news channel, Kim can be seen shaking Trump's hand before the president turns to shake the hand of a North Korean officer standing next to Kim. The officer, confused, salutes Trump instead, prompting the president to salute back.

Why it got so much buzz: U.S. presidents generally salute U.S. service members, but do not salute members of other nation's militaries.

White House defense salute: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday defended President Trump's decision to salute a North Korean military officer, calling it "common courtesy."

"It's a common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes that you return that," she said.

 

RUSSIA WARNS NORWAY OVER REQUEST FOR ADDITIONAL US MARINES: Russia on Thursday accused Norway of raising tensions after Oslo requested additional U.S. Marines to be stationed along the border of the two countries.

The Russian Embassy in Norway called the request "clearly unfriendly, and it will not remain without consequences."

"This makes Norway less predictable and could cause growing tensions, triggering an arms race and destabilizing the situation in northern Europe," the Russian Embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page.

"We believe that security in Europe must be equal and indivisible. It can only be built on the basis of compliance with real national interests, mutual respect and cooperation," the embassy added.

The background: Oslo is expected to ask the U.S. to send 700 Marines in 2019, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said earlier this week. The additional troops would be based near the border with Russia.

Norway said that the decision to invite more U.S. troops centered on NATO training efforts, Reuters reported.

The request for additional U.S. forces comes amid heightened concerns over Russia's intentions in the region.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Heritage Foundation will hold a discussion on "Reagan's 'Peace through Strength' Cold War Strategy: Integrating Defense, Nuclear Deterrence, Modernization and Arms Control," at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump questioned why allies opposed Russia's annexation of Crimea: report

-- The Hill: South Korean newspaper slams Trump-Kim summit: Diplomacy for kindergarten

-- The Hill: Pompeo: Sanctions relief hinges on North Korea's complete denuclearization

-- The Hill: South Korea reviewing military exercises with US

-- The Hill: Opinion: The true test of the Trump-Kim summit is what comes next

-- The Hill: Opinion: How will the Senate defense bill impact future Pentagon agenda?

-- Defense News: What's the United States' biggest priority for the NATO summit?

-- Stars and Stripes: VA hospitals across the country have more than 3,000 unwanted jobs

Outbrain
View desktop version