Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump hits Iran with new sanctions amid standoff | Joint Chiefs chair floats longer military presence in Afghanistan | North Korea defends rocket test

Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump hits Iran with new sanctions amid standoff | Joint Chiefs chair floats longer military presence in Afghanistan | North Korea defends rocket test
© Getty Images

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: The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed fresh sanctions targeting Tehran as both countries escalate their rhetoric over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The White House announced sanctions on the steel, iron, aluminum and copper sectors of the country hours after Iran said it would stop complying with certain parts of the Obama-era nuclear agreement.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE's executive order imposing new sanctions on Tehran also came on the one-year anniversary of his announcement that he would withdraw the U.S. from the nuclear deal.

"It remains the policy of the United States to deny Iran all paths to both a nuclear weapon and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and to counter the totality of Iran's malign influence in the Middle East," Trump said in the order released Wednesday.

The background: The Trump administration has steadily increased pressure on Iran over the last year since pulling out of the Obama-era deal, despite concerns from international allies. The pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, provided Tehran with sanctions relief in exchange for measures to curb its nuclear program.

The administration previously targeted Iran with sanctions against financial institutions and the country's oil industry, which serves as its largest revenue producer. Iran's metal sector is another major source of revenue, accounting for roughly 10 percent of its export economy.

Last month, the Trump administration labeled Iran's Revolutionary Guard a "foreign terrorist organization." 

On Sunday, national security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonTensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat Tensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? MORE also announced the deployment of a U.S. carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East. Officials have cited a "credible threat" from Iran but have not elaborated on the cause.

More threats: Trump said in a statement announcing the metal sanctions Wednesday that "Tehran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct."

"I look forward to someday meeting with the leaders of Iran in order to work out an agreement and, very importantly, taking steps to give Iran the future it deserves," he said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said earlier in the day that Tehran would begin to build its stockpiles of low enriched uranium. He added that he would wait 60 days to take further action, giving other nations that are still part of the nuclear agreement the option of engaging with Tehran on trade or following Trump in abandoning the deal.

 

 

Pentagon defends dispatching carrier to region: Meanwhile on Capitol hill, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanUS to send 1K additional troops to Middle East amid Iran tensions US to send 1K additional troops to Middle East amid Iran tensions Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments MORE defended the administration's decision to send the USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf over the weekend.

"We saw the intelligence and so we sent some messages on Friday to make sure that it was clear to Iran that we recognize the threat and we were postured to respond to the threat," Dunford told Senate lawmakers.

"What I asked really was to accelerate the movement of the Lincoln and the bomber task force so that there would be no ambiguity about our preparedness to respond to any threat against our people or our partners in the region."

Dunford said the point was to deter Iran from any aggressive actions.

Lawmakers not happy: Dunford was responding to Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedTop voting machine manufacturer urges Congress to make paper records required Top voting machine manufacturer urges Congress to make paper records required Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-R.I.), who questioned the two leaders on the administration's decision.

"It took the [Defense Department] more than two days to share any information with the congressional defense committees and I sit on both and frankly, I think that's unacceptable," Reed said. "If there is a serious situation requiring response of this nature, we should be informed. So why were we not informed in a detailed and timely manner?"

 

JOINT CHIEFS FLOAT LONGER MILITARY PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN: The United States will need U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future to act as a counterterrorism force until all insurgency is removed, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday.

Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers at the Capitol that the United States will "need to maintain a counterterrorism presence as long as an insurgency continues in Afghanistan."

A refresher: The United States is in the midst of peace talks with the Taliban to negotiate an end to the nearly 18-year war.

The Trump administration hopes negotiations will lead to a withdrawal of U.S. troops in exchange for the Taliban agreeing to not harbor terrorist organizations that could threaten U.S. security, though the talks appeared to stall in recent weeks and have been met with bipartisan skepticism on Capitol Hill.

Threats remain: Dunford said there are still 20 extremist groups in the Afghanistan region, and "a handful" have said they want to attack the United States.

"I don't think anybody would want to withdraw our forces from Afghanistan or the broader Middle East more than me," Dunford told Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Democrats aim to block defense money from being used on Trump border wall MORE (D-N.M.) during a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.

"But I will share with you the advice that I've provided now to two presidents ... It's my judgment today based on the threat from South Asia, that we need to continue to put pressure on those terrorist groups or they'll pose a threat to the United States.

"I know it's frustrating to you and the American people for us to be there for such a long period of time," he continued. "It's just my judgment right now that the conditions for a complete withdrawal aren't there."

Current policy: Shanahan said that the Trump administration's current policy remains the South Asia strategy, which President Trump unveiled in August 2017.

Dunford noted that about 15,000 American and 7,000 NATO forces still remain in the country and that "there are the conditions for continuing to decrease U.S. presence in the region as we have and increase the responsibility of, in this case, the Afghan forces to provide security for themselves."

"Our best chance for peace, and this is probably the best in 40 years, is taking place right now," Shanahan said. "I would say our policy is to fight and talk. We're fighting the Taliban, to pressure them into reduction of violence. I think we're making progress."

 

NORTH KOREA: ROCKET TEST WAS 'REGULAR AND SELF-DEFENSIVE': North Korea on Wednesday defended last week's missile test as "regular and self-defensive," according to the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"The recent drill conducted by our army is nothing more than part of the regular military training, and it has neither targeted anyone nor led to an aggravation of situation in the region," a ministry spokesperson told the state-run KCNA news agency.

The spokesperson added that other countries routinely carry out "this kind of very normal drill" for national defense rather than "the war exercises waged by some countries against other sovereign states."

Missile tests by other countries, though, typically involve advance notice to nearby nations.

What happened: North Korea on Saturday launched multiple projectiles and at least one short-range missile toward Japan in its first missile test since November 2017, when it launched an intercontinental ballistic missile believed to be capable of reaching the U.S.

Shortly after Saturday's test, President Trump wrote on Twitter that he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnOne year after Singapore, the North Korea problem is bigger than nukes One year after Singapore, the North Korea problem is bigger than nukes China's Xi to visit North Korea: state media MORE "fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it."

The recent launches followed stalled talks in February between the U.S. and North Korea, where Trump and Kim met for a second summit but failed to reach an agreement on Pyongyang's denuclearization.

What the statement says: North Korea said in Wednesday's statement that there is a double standard at play, with the U.S. and South Korea engaging in "provocative military drills and war exercises" that have produced "only dead silence" from other nations.

Trump, after first meeting with Kim in June 2018 in Singapore, announced he was canceling all large-scale military exercises with South Korea, a move that caught U.S. military leaders off guard.

The U.S. military now holds smaller-scale exercises on and around the Korean Peninsula.

Suspended efforts: Also on Wednesday it was discovered that U.S. efforts to recover the remains of American troops killed during the Korean War have stalled.

The agency in charge of recovering the remains told Reuters on Wednesday that it has not been in contact with North Korean officials since negotiations between President Trump and Kim Jong Un in February failed to produce further results, a spokesman told Reuters.

"We have reached the point where we can no longer effectively plan, coordinate, and conduct field operations in [North Korea] during this fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2019," U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) spokesman Lt. Col. Kenneth Hoffman reportedly said.

"As a result, our efforts to communicate with the Korean People's Army regarding the possible resumption of joint recovery operations for 2019 have been suspended," he said.

 

SPONSORED CONTENT - HUNTINGTON INGALLS INDUSTRIES

LHA-class warships are the centerpiece of our Navy amphibious ready group and Marine Corps. By accelerating LHA production, Huntington Ingalls Industries can deliver the fleet our nation needs. Learn more at Huntington Ingalls Industries.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on the consequences of cutting U.S. aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, with speakers including Leah Campos, former senior staff for the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman; Dan Fisk, former senior director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council; and former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland, starting at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Top US general: Pentagon, DHS working on 'multiyear plan' for border

-- The Hill: CBO confirms nearly $2 billion Space Force price tag

-- The Hill: Iran to stop complying with parts of nuclear deal

-- The Hill: Russia blames US for Iran's withdrawal from parts of nuclear deal

-- The Hill: Sen. King, Rep. Gallagher to chair bipartisan commission to defend US in cyberspace

-- The Hill: Trump juggles crises in Iran, North Korea, Venezuela

-- The Hill: Opinion: Persian Gulf is vital enough for US to go to war

-- The Hill: Opinion: Tensions with Iran are escalating into a dangerous chain of events

-- The Hill: Opinion: Space Force is a necessity -- we are at war every day in space