Overnight Defense: Pompeo downplays split over Saudi Arabia | Priebus tapped for Navy after Mattis recommendation | North Korea reportedly evading US sanctions

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. We're Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump administration eyes Afghan security forces funding for aid cut: report Trump says 40,000 Americans have been repatriated who were stranded abroad US should adopt a Marshall Plan for Ethiopia MORE on Friday downplayed differences between the Trump administration and Congress over the Saudi-led war in Yemen after the Senate voted to end U.S. support for the war.

"We always have great respect for what the legislative branch does," Pompeo said alongside Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisIs coronavirus the final Trump crisis? Pentagon seeks to reconsider parts of B cloud contract given to Microsoft over Amazon Democrats press FEC pick to recuse himself from Trump matters MORE and their Canadian counterparts at The State Department.


"We are in constant contact with members on Capitol Hill so that we understand fully their concerns and do our best to articulate why our policies are what they are and how we can ensure we are getting the right policy for the United States of America and to keep our country safe. We'll certainly do that in light of yesterday's vote."

What the resolution does: The Senate resolution, passed on Thursday, deals a significant blow to President TrumpDonald John TrumpCampaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis Outgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' Trump hits Illinois governor after criticism: 'I hear him complaining all the time' MORE amid heightened tensions over the death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It would require the president to withdraw any troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda.

The resolution will not be passed by the GOP-led House, but with Democrats taking over the chamber in January, the issue could come back to the front-burner.

The resolution was approved amid rising anger among Republicans over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.

Trump still stands by crown prince: Earlier this week, Trump said that he would stand by the Saudi government despite reports that U.S. intelligence officials believe the crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in early October.

The Senate also on Thursday passed a separate resolution specifically naming the crown prince as responsible for Khashoggi's death.

Administration tries to pivot to Iran: Pompeo maintained that Trump "has been very clear about the importance" of holding accountable those who killed Khashoggi and protecting American citizens, then shifted the conversation to Iran, a tactic also used by the president.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people that the Iranians killed and been involved in their deaths all across the Middle East. There's real risk to the United States of America, you'll recall that the Iranians and their explosive devices killed hundreds of American soldiers. President Trump is determined to make sure that we protect America all the while holding accountable those who committed the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi," he said.

Mattis said that the Defense Department respects the Senate vote and noted recent progress in seeking to end Yemen's civil war.


MATTIS RECOMMENDS PRIEBUS FOR NAVY: The Washington Post was out with a report Friday that said former White House chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusMeadows joins White House facing reelection challenges Trump names Mark Meadows as new chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's job security looks strong following impeachment MORE has been selected to be a Navy reserve officer.

Priebus was chosen by a review board after receiving a recommendation from Mattis, according to the Post.

In a statement to the Navy obtained by the Post, Priebus wrote that he felt called to serve after an Oval Office meeting with Trump and the family of Senior Chief William "Ryan" Owens, the Navy SEAL killed early in the administration during raid in Yemen.

At 46 years old, Priebus needs a waiver to join as an officer, a requirement for anyone over 42.

Priebus declined to comment to the Post.

What Mattis said: According to the Post, Mattis wrote that "Reince's experience, education, and personality make him an ideal fit to be commissioned into the Navy Reserve."

Mattis also said that he has "had the privilege and opportunity to work with Mr. Priebus on numerous occasions, including most recently when he served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff."

Political favor?: Mattis' top spokeswoman told the Post that it's not uncommon for applicants to the Navy reserves to have recommendations from members of Congress, governors and other high-ranking officials

"Secretary Mattis agreed to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf," spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement. "The letter is consistent with applicable standards."

But an unnamed Navy officer told the Post that some officers saw Mattis' recommendation as a political favor that complicated the consideration of Priebus as a potential officer.


NORTH KOREA EVADING SANCTIONS: U.S. efforts to prevent North Korea from evading oil sanctions have caused Pyongyang to change its tactics but has not stopped the illicit activity, according to a classified military assessment reported on by NBC News.

The "top secret" assessment by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said that North Korea is transferring oil further away from the Korean peninsula, often in other countries' territorial waters, since the September deployment of warships and surveillance aircraft by an eight-nation coalition.

NBC, which cited three unnamed U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence, also said North Korea is smaller vessels to avoid recognition by the coalition.

While the deployment hasn't stopped sanctions evasion, the officials told NBC they are hopeful that the change in tactics will increase the cost of smuggling for North Korea.

Surprising?: North Korea has long evaded sanctions using ship-to-ship transfers at sea. In the past, U.S. officials have described tactics including flying the flags of other countries on ships and turning off transponders.

But Friday's news is another in a series of headlines that demonstrate North Korea's untrustworthiness while President Trump hopes to negotiate a denuclearization agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The September deployment came because the United Nations reported in August that such illicit activity was surging.

That report said the illicit ship-to-ship transfers in international waters had "increased in scope, scale and sophistication."

US, South Korea alliance: Also Friday, South Korea indicated it can't come to an agreement with the United States with a new cost-sharing deal with the United States on the U.S. troops based on the peninsula.

An unnamed South Korean foreign ministry official told reporters that "we've come to agreement on almost all elements but could not make it final because of differences on the total scale of the deal," according to Reuters.

But U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement to the outlet that there are "ongoing consultative talks" on the agreement.

"Due to the ongoing consultative talks between U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) delegations, we are unable to speculate on potential outcomes," the statement said.

Trump has long demanded that South Korea bear a greater burden for the costs of U.S. troops in South Korea.

A failure for the two close allies to reach an agreement while the North Korea nuclear negotiations are ongoing shows a crack at a time when the allies are trying to show unity.



The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion on U.S. policy in Syria, featuring special envoy for Syria engagement James Jeffrey, at noon. https://bit.ly/2UKyQif


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