Overnight Defense: US reportedly easing demands over North Korean nukes | Trump optimistic for deal | Dems rip plan to use military funds for wall | Pentagon urges India, Pakistan to calm tensions

Overnight Defense: US reportedly easing demands over North Korean nukes | Trump optimistic for deal | Dems rip plan to use military funds for wall | Pentagon urges India, Pakistan to calm tensions
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Happy Wednesday 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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: As President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE begins his second day of meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, news broke that U.S. officials negotiating North Korea's denuclearization are no longer demanding a full accounting of the hermit nation's nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals.

NBC News reported that the reversal suggests U.S. officials believe fully denuclearizing North Korea is increasingly out of their grasp, a reality the intelligence community has suggested in recent weeks is increasingly likely. North Korea's refusal to provide a full disclosure of its weapons tanked nuclear negotiations a decade ago.

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What negotiators want now: U.S. negotiators are hoping that North Korea will accept their demands this week to shutter its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which many consider to be the nuclear program's crown jewel. However, Kim and other officials are demanding sanctions relief before any action is taken, a move the White House says will only take place following full denuclearization. 

Trump stays on message: Trump, meanwhile, has expressed optimism that a deal can be reached and touted North Korea's economic potential should harsh sanctions resulting from its nuclear program be lifted when he sat down with Kim Jong Un on Wednesday to kick off the summit.

"I think we'll be very successful," Trump said, adding he and Kim have a "great relationship."

The president expressed a positive and upbeat attitude, saying he "thought the first summit was a great success" and adding he hopes "this one is equal or greater."

Asked whether he has walked back his vow to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Trump responded, "No."

A special relationship: Trump also said Wednesday he has a "very special relationship" with Kim as the two sat down for dinner on the first night of their summit in Vietnam.

"We're going to have a very busy day tomorrow, and we'll probably have a pretty quick dinner, and a lot of things are going be to solved I hope, and I think it'll lead to really a wonderful situation long term," Trump said. "And our relationship is a very special relationship."

The comment was the latest from Trump appearing cozy with the North Korean leader, who has been accused of grave human rights violations.

Trump and Kim were dining at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, after a roughly 20-minute one-on-one meeting to start their second summit.

What happened at the one-on-one? Kim said he and Trump exchanged "very interesting dialogue" in their one-on-one meeting, according to a translator.

"Boy if you could have heard that dialogue, what you would pay for that dialogue," Trump added.

And The Hill's Rebecca Kheel and Jordan Fabian have more here on Trump meeting Kim under the looming Cohen testimony. And for more on the Cohen testimony, which riveted Washington on Wednesday, click here for our live blog of the day's events, and here for our wrap-up on a dramatic day.

 

DEMS SLAM TRUMP PLAN TO MOVE MILITARY CONSTRUCTION FUNDS FOR BORDER WALL: House Democrats on Wednesday hammered Pentagon officials over President Trump's plan to move Defense Department military construction (MILCON) dollars to build his proposed southern border wall after declaring a national emergency.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon offered few new details on Trump's plans to take $3.6 billion in MILCON funds for his project, effectively sidestepping Congress.

The lack of more information angered Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (D-Fla.), who heads the Appropriations Committee's sub-panel on military construction.

"I'm not sure what kind of chumps you think my colleagues and I are," she told McMahon during a particularly testy exchange.

Delayed not canceled: While McMahon assured lawmakers that no military construction projects already authorized by Congress will be canceled, he allowed that "some current military construction projects may be deferred," and the president's fiscal year 2020 budget request "will include a request for funds to replenish funding for these projects."

He also offered that to protect military readiness, the Pentagon will look to delay projects that "pose no or minimal operational readiness risks if deferred," those scheduled to be awarded in the last half of the fiscal year, and recapitalization projects on existing facilities that could be put off for several months.

McMahon also said that no money would be taken away from housing for soldiers and their families.

A testy exchange: Wasserman Schultz appeared particularly unsatisfied with an explanation from McMahon as to how the Pentagon would move funds between accounts without Congressional oversight.

"What I think we're doing is executing the president's, as commander-in-chief, direction to us to be able to fund a portion of the border wall in fiscal year 2019," McMahon told Wasserman Schultz.

"Mr. Secretary you're fooling no one, really," she shot back. "I'm not sure what kind of chumps you think my colleagues and I are, but canceling, deferring, coming back in FY-20 to replace, all leads to the same thing, you are taking money from vital projects that the military previously said were essential, and spending that money on a wall, and then asking that money to be backfilled later in the next fiscal year, when we already had that debate, and the president's proposal was rejected."

Republicans agree: The subpanel appeared unanimous in their opposition to using military funds to build Trump's wall, including ranking member Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families America's workers and small business owners need the SECURE Act Cornyn faces toughest race yet in changing Texas MORE (R- Texas), whose district butts up against Fort Hood Military Base.

"I share the president's commitment to securing the border ... Yet while I stand with the president on this important national security issue, I will not do so at the expense of the soldiers and the families of Fort Hood," Carter said in his opening remarks.

Democrats and some Republicans worry that Trump's declaration would undermine military readiness in their districts and beyond. 

 

PENTAGON URGES PAKISTAN AND INDIA TO DE-ESCALATE TENSIONS: The Pentagon is urging India and Pakistan to back off future military attacks following the first Indian airstrike into Pakistan since 1971.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE is focused "on de-escalating tensions and urging both of the nations to avoid further military action," according to a Defense Department statement released Wednesday.

The Pentagon adds that Shanahan has been in contact with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial GOP senator blocks bill aimed at preventing Russia election meddling Russian diplomat says election meddling wasn't discussed at White House, contradicting Trump MORE, national security adviser John Bolton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. Philip Davidson, and U.S. Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel "regarding India-Pakistan tensions."

The violence increases: India on Tuesday ordered an airstrike over the disputed Kashmir region targeting the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) fighter group. The strike, which India claimed killed "a very large number of ... terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis," was the first major state-sanctioned military action in Kashmir by either side since 1999.

The airstrike was in retaliation for a Feb. 14 suicide car bombing allegedly conducted by JeM that killed at least 40 Indian officials, according to the foreign secretary's statement. 

Earlier Wednesday, Pakistan and India both said they had shot down each other's warplanes over Indian-controlled Kashmir.

A complicated relationship: The U.S. military, which sells weapons to India and views the nation as a strategic partner in the region, has taken a hard line on Pakistan under the Trump administration. 

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Last year Trump announced a suspension of aid to Pakistan -- including $300 million from the Pentagon -- over its perceived unwillingness to take firm action against militants in the country. 

Trump in his first tweet of 2018, said Pakistan was rewarding the U.S. for its aid with "nothing but lies & deceit." 

The administration has attempted to reset its tense relationship with Islamabad, however, with Pompeo in September meeting with the country's new prime minister, Imran Khan.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Reps. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherImpeachment surprise: Bills Congress could actually pass in 2020 Statesmen seek bipartisan solutions to big challenges Colorado rep planning sunrise run to possible sites for military memorial MORE (R-Wis.), and Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaProviding more information on the prescription drug supply chain will help lower costs for all Bipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill Mexican president urges Pelosi to get USMCA trade deal approved MORE (D-Calif.), will speak on "Congress and the National Defense Strategy: A bipartisan conversation with congressional national security leaders," at 8:30 a.m. at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from former defense and security officials on U.S. nuclear policy and posture at 9:30 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room SD-G50.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Kushner meets with Saudi crown prince for first time since Khashoggi killing

-- The Hill: Spicer slams Dems for holding Cohen hearing while Trump is abroad

-- The Hill: Majority now sees Russian military power as 'critical threat': poll

-- The Hill: India, Pakistan claim to down each other's warplanes as tensions rise

-- The Hill: Some reporters barred from covering Trump-Kim dinner

-- The Hill: Trump urges North Korea to denuclearize ahead of summit

-- The Hill: Marine being investigated for allegedly sharing pro-Nazi images

-- The Hill: Opinion: Bring Hoda Muthana and other ISIS members home -- but for trial

-- The Hill: Opinion: Sell nuclear plants to the Saudis? Are you kidding?

-- The Hill: Don't unlearn the mistakes of Iraq with Iran