Overnight Defense: Top Trump security officials discuss Venezuela options | Trump contradicts advisers on Russia's role in crisis | Administration renews Iran civil nuclear work waivers

Overnight Defense: Top Trump security officials discuss Venezuela options | Trump contradicts advisers on Russia's role in crisis | Administration renews Iran civil nuclear work waivers
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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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: This week's attempt by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guiado's to oust President Nicolas Maduro may have fizzled out, but the Trump administration is still working on its next steps.

On Friday, 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, national security advisor John BoltonJohn BoltonFive bombshells from explosive Sondland testimony Chris Wallace: Sondland testimony 'took out the bus and ran over' Trump, top aides Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSondland brings impeachment inquiry to White House doorstep Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Senate eyes sending stopgap spending bill back to House | Sondland delivers bombshell impeachment testimony | Pentagon deputy says he didn't try to block official's testimony Five bombshells from explosive Sondland testimony MORE met at the Pentagon to discuss military options to the crisis, a senior administration official told The Hill.

Shanahan later told a small group of reporters about the meeting, as well, though he would not discuss specifics of the supposed military options.

What Shanahan did say: According to the Associated Press, which was one of the few outlets invited to the Shanahan gaggle, when pressed whether options include direct military intervention, Shanahan only said, "I'll leave that to your imagination. All options are on the table."

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Shanahan was also asked about a suggestion made by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Report on alleged surveillance abuse in 2016 to be released Dec. 9 McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack MORE (R-S.C.) to send an aircraft carrier down there.

"All would include all," Shanahan said.

Shanahan also denied there was a U.S. intelligence gap despite the fact that hoped-for defections in Venezuela's military never materialized.

"I feel very confident in the quality and the accuracy of the information that we're getting, Shanahan said. "I don't feel like we have an intelligence gap."

What Trump says: One of the factors U.S. officials have been pointing to in citing a U.S. interest in the crisis is Russia's backing of Maduro.

"The Russians have people working over there in the hundreds, if not more," Pompeo said Thursday on The Ben Shapiro Show. "These are the folks who are actually controlling the direction of travel for Venezuela."

But after speaking with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Yang jokes first thing he'd say to Putin as president is 'Sorry I beat your guy' Biden: Impeachment hearings show 'Trump doesn't want me to be the nominee' MORE on Friday, Trump contradicted that.

"He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he'd like to see something positive happen for Venezuela," Trump said of Putin.

 

TRUMP, PUTIN CALL: As noted above, Trump and Putin spoke by phone Friday.

Most of the attention on the call has been placed on the fact that the two discussed the Mueller report but  did not discuss Putin's election interference.

But there was also an equally important discussion of arms control agreements.

White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersBill Press: Mulvaney proves need for daily briefings White House correspondent April Ryan to moderate fundraising event for Buttigieg White House press secretary defends lack of daily briefings: Trump 'is the most accessible president in history' MORE Sanders said the two presidents "discussed nuclear agreements, both new and extended, with the possibility of having conversations with China on that front as well."

Asked later whether he wants to extend the New START Treaty or add China to it, Trump said "we're talking about a nuclear agreement where we make less and they make less, and maybe even where we get rid of some of the tremendous firepower that we have right now."

"We discussed the possibility of a three-way deal instead of a two-way deal. And China, I've already spoken to them, they very much would like to be a part of that deal," Trump added.

"So I think we're going to probably start up something very shortly between Russia and ourselves, maybe to start off," he continued. "And I think China will be added down the road. We'll be talking about nonproliferation. We'll be talking about a nuclear deal of some kind. And I think it will be a very comprehensive one."

Context: The New START Treaty between the United States and Russia cap the number of deployed nuclear warheads each country is allowed to have.

The treaty is up for extension in 2021, and Trump administration officials have hinted that adding China is a condition for them to renew the deal.

But nonproliferation advocates say putting China into the mix is a poison pill to kill the treaty. New START caps deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550, and China is only believed to have about 280.

Russia's version: Russia's statement on the call said the two presidents "affirmed their shared commitment to step up dialogue in various areas, including on issues of strategic stability," an apparent reference to the issue of a nuclear agreement.

Putin also told Trump about the results of his April meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Harris accuses Trump of being 'punked' by North Korea Kamala Harris: 'Donald Trump got punked' by North Korea MORE, "stressing that Pyongyang's good-faith fulfilment of its commitments should be accompanied by reciprocal steps to ease the sanctions pressure on North Korea," according to the statement.

On Venezuela, according to the Russian account, Putin "underscored that only the Venezuelans themselves have the right to determine the future of their country, whereas outside interference in the country's internal affairs and attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of the crisis."

 

IRAN WAIVERS GRANTED: Weeks after announcing it wouldn't renew oil sanctions waivers, the administration is renewing some other key waivers for Iran sanctions.

Specifically, the administration is renewing three waivers that allow European allies, China and Russia to cooperate with Iran on civil nuclear programs.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford told Bloomberg the administration will renew the waivers for Iran's Fordow, Bushehr and Arak nuclear facilities for 90 days instead of the 180 days the original waivers were for.

Two other waivers, one that allowed Iran to ship surplus heavy water to Oman and another that allowed Russia to process Iranian uranium, will be revoked.

The State Department did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

About the facilities: Fordow, which was originally a secret underground uranium enrichment facility, is being converted into a nuclear physics and technology center under the terms of the deal.

Arak is the site of an unfinished heavy water reactor Iran was building before the deal. Iran destroyed the heart of the reactor as part of the deal, and now China and the United Kingdom are overseeing work on a replacement reactor for non-weapons grade plutonium.

Bushehr is a civil nuclear reactor that is fueled by the Russians, who have been ensuring the spent fuel does not pose a proliferation risk.

The arguments: Iran hardliners inside and outside the administration have been pushing the State Department to end all the waivers, hoping to drive a stake through the heart of the nuclear deal.

Supporters of the nuclear deal, though, argued it was in U.S. national security interest to renew the waivers because they ensure Iran's nuclear work remains non-military by allowing an international eye into the facilities.

Renewing the waivers also avoids a rift with European allies, such as deal signatories France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

 

SHANA-NOM WATCH: Defense watchers have been on the edge of their seats since the inspector general cleared Shanahan last week waiting for Trump to nominate him for the permanent Defense secretary job.

Trump on Friday didn't say whether he would, but that "it'll be discussed next week."

 

IT BEGINS: The House Armed Services Committee announced Friday that it has filed the "by request" version of the annual defense policy bill, officially kicking off National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) season.

Recall that the Senate Armed Services Committee is actually marking up its version first this year, beginning with subcommittee markups May 21.

House Armed Services markups begin with subcommittees on June 4.

 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDuckworth celebrates Veterans Day with deported veterans in Mexico Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect military families from deportation Nuclear command nominee sidesteps questions on arms control treaties MORE will speak about her recent trip to Iraq 3:30 p.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://bit.ly/2PJfcBf

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Pentagon departure expands vacancies in DOD

-- The Hill: Afghan attack pilot training program ends after airmen kept going AWOL in US

-- Miami Herald: Pro-Trump conservatives challenge possible U.S. military involvement in Venezuela

-- Associated Press: What's next for Venezuela after days of tumult?

-- Reuters: Turkey not distancing itself from NATO with Russian missiles deal: minister