Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: White House ‘not considering’ Ukraine referendum | Pompeo hopeful on plans for Putin visit | Measure to block ZTE deal dropped from defense bill

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Happy Friday 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: As the week wraps up, the fallout from President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s summit at the beginning of the week is dominating Washington.

The White House had to do more cleanup Friday after a report that Putin floated holding a referendum on the fate of eastern Ukraine. Trump reportedly told Putin not to talk about the proposal in public as he mulled it over.

In a statement Friday, the White House said Trump is “not considering” the proposal.

“The Administration is not considering supporting a referendum in the eastern Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesman Garret Marquis said in a statement.


Marquis said the Minsk Agreements, a 2015 deal on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, is the process that should be followed to achieve peace in the region, and that “these agreements do not include any option for referendum.”

“Furthermore, to organize a so-called referendum in a part of Ukraine which is not under government control would have no legitimacy,” he said.

This fall in DC: The White House’s announcement Thursday that Putin has been invited to D.C. may have taken Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats by surprise, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears to be on board.

On Friday, Pompeo said he’s “very hopeful” the fall visit will come to fruition.

“Those conversations are incredibly important, we have our senior leaders meeting all across the world with people we have deep disagreements with,” Pompeo told reporters.

“It is incredibly valuable to the people of the United States of America that President Trump and President Putin continue to engage in dialogue to resolve the difficult issues that our countries face between each other,” he said.

“I think this makes enormous sense and I’m very hopeful that that meeting will take place this fall.”

Would Putin actually come?: Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. said the country is “ready for discussions” about a possible second meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the White House this fall.

Ambassador Anatoly Antonov on Friday said that it’s important to “deal with the results” of the leaders’ meeting on Monday before moving onto a second summit, the Associated Press reported.

“Russia was always open to such proposals. We are ready for discussions on this subject,” Antonov said.

Divide in the administration: Speaking of Coats, his shocked and skeptical reaction to the news that Putin was invited to Washington, highlights the disconnect between Trump and his own officials over Russia, The Hill’s Jordan Fabian and Morgan Chalfant reported.

From their story:

President Trump’s bungled effort to warm up to Russian President Vladimir Putin has driven a wedge between him and his own administration as it seeks to crack down on Moscow’s hostile activities.

Rank-and-file intelligence and national security officials feel demoralized by the president’s failure to publicly call out Putin for interfering in the 2016 election, according to sources inside and outside the federal government.

“It’s just another day in paradise,” said one former White House official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Russia narratives have been a daily ordeal for two years. Nobody knows what the president will do or say and nobody knows what they don’t know.”

In Congress: Two senators are stepping up their efforts to advance Russia sanctions legislation, asking key Senate committees to hold a hearing and then vote on a bill by early next month.

“The Senate has the opportunity to highlight to the American public the real threats that foreign interference in our future elections pose, and to act to deter future foreign interference and defend our country,” Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote in a July 19 letter to top members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Banking committees.

They added that the November elections “are just 110 days away” and “the time to come together and act is now.”

DEFENSE BILL WATCH: The Senate’s effort to block President Trump’s ZTE deal — one of the most closely watched provisions in the annual defense policy bill — is out.

Lawmakers reached an agreement to strip the provision from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have sunk the deal to save Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, a congressional source confirmed to The Hill on Friday.

Rather than the Senate’s tougher language, which would have kept stiff penalties in place, including blocking ZTE from buying American components, the final NDAA is expected to line up with language included in the House’s defense bill, according to the sources.

The House version would block government agencies from using ZTE or Huawei technology.

At issue: The Commerce Department first announced in June that it had agreed to lift penalties against ZTE in exchange for the company paying a $1 billion fine and embedding a U.S.-selected compliance team into the firm. The penalties were levied on ZTE after it admitted violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

Last week, Commerce announced that ZTE had met the terms of the settlement and would be allowed to start doing business with American companies again.

Trump’s deal to save ZTE has rattled Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan group of senators got language into their annual defense policy bill that would have effectively blocked the agreement.

The White House warned in a statement last month that it “strongly opposes” the Senate’s ZTE provision, but did not issue a veto threat.

Instead, top White House officials and key GOP allies on Capitol Hill pledged to water down the language during the conference committee.

Time crunch: The leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have said they want to wrap up negotiations on the NDAA before the House leaves for August recess.

The House’s last day is Thursday, leaving little time left. But lawmakers have continued to sound an optimistic note that negotiations will finish and the House will pass the bill before the end of the next week.



The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host expert panels on verifying North Korea’s denuclearization at 1:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/2uF5Dcd



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Tags Chris Van Hollen Dan Coats Donald Trump Marco Rubio Mike Pompeo

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