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

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
© Getty Images

Happy Monday 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: U.S.-Iran tensions remain high as the new week begins.

Monday's latest development is the Trump administration's decision to send an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East.

The decision was announced in a statement by acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Defense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall MORE, who said troops would be used for defensive purposes.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran," Shanahan said. "The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests."

"We will continue to monitor the situation diligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats," he added.

Latest on tanker attack: The announcement comes amid increasing friction between the U.S. and Iran following an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week.

The U.S. has blamed Iran for the attack and produced images it claims show Iranians removing a mine from the ship's hull, but the nation has strongly denied responsibility for the attack.

More on this breaking story here.

Iran deadline: The day's other big development was Iran saying that in 10 days it will have stockpiled more uranium than allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal.

The announcement isn't all that surprising -- in May, Tehran said it was increasing its uranium production capacity. But the announcement sets a new countdown clock for Europe to meet Iran's demands on the nuclear deal.

The specifics: The 2015 nuclear deal says Iran can stockpile no more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium.

In May, Iran announced it was quadrupling its uranium production capacity following the Trump administration's decision to end waivers that allowed Iran to export excess uranium.

On Monday, the spokesman of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said Iran will pass the 300 kilogram limit on June 27.

For now, Iran is still only enriching to the 3.67 percent limit set by the deal -- enough for power plants but far from weapons-grade.

But Kamalvandi said Iran will increase uranium enrichment levels "based on the country's needs." He said Iran needs 5 percent enrichment for its nuclear power plant in Bushehr and 20 percent enrichment for a Tehran research reactor.

Iran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to ensure it still gets benefits from the deal despite U.S. sanctions before it will increase enrichment levels.

US response: The Trump administration responded to the news by blaming the Obama administration and calling for "increased international pressure" against Iran.

"Iran's enrichment plans are only possible because the horrible nuclear deal left ... their capabilities intact," National Security Council spokesman Garret Marquis said in a statement. "President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE has made it clear that he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The regime's nuclear blackmail must be met with increased international pressure."

European response: Iran's announcement came as European foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels to discuss recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Monday the situation in the Gulf calls for "maximum restraint," a play on the Trump administration's policy of "maximum pressure."

Foreign ministers expressed, she said, "a very strong element of concern for the risk of miscalculation or unintentional escalations that could occur in a region that is already to the limits of the stress test."

Mogherini also said the EU was focused on ways to "keep the [nuclear] agreement in place," including mechanisms for Iran to continue to benefit from the deal.

She stressed Europe will move forward based on International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessments.

"Our assessment on the implementation of the agreement is based on the factual, technically sound assessment and evaluation that the IAEA makes in its reports. And so far, Iran has been compliant with its nuclear commitments as we had expected it to be, as we had encouraged it to be," she said. "So if the IAEA assessment and reports will change, we will then assess the situation further."

Over the weekend: Iran was a prominent top of discussion on the Sunday shows.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo promotes economic ties, takes aim at corruption in Africa visit Russian foreign minister says he sensed 'more constructive' approach after meeting with Pompeo Donald Trump: Unrepentant, on the attack and still playing the victim MORE stood by the administration's assessment that Iran attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, saying it is "unmistakable what happened here."

"These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping on the freedom of navigation, with the clear intent to deny transit through the strait," Pompeo said.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMalaysia says it will choose 5G partners based on own standards, not US recommendations Pelosi warns allies against using Huawei Budget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight MORE (D-Calif.) said in an interview that aired Sunday that "we have absolutely no appetite for going to war" with Iran.

"We have absolutely no appetite for going to war or to be provocative, to create situations that might evoke responses where mistakes could be made," she said while appearing on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

Iran-hawk Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran Coronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 MORE (R-Ark.) said the tanker attacks "warrant a retaliatory military strike."

"These unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike," Cotton said on CBS's "Face the Nation" while insisting President Trump had the power to order such a strike without congressional approval.

"The president has the authorization to act to defend American interests," Cotton said.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Bloomberg hits Sanders supporters in new ad MORE said in an interview that aired Sunday that U.S. tensions with Iran are "disturbingly reminiscent" of the lead-up to the Iraq War.

"There's no question that Iran has a pattern of malign activities. There's also no question that there is a pattern that is disturbingly reminiscent of the run-up to the war in Iraq in some cases being driven by the same people," Buttigieg said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Coming up: Pompeo will meet Tuesday with Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie and Special Operations Command chief Gen. Richard Clarke at their headquarters in Florida to discuss "regional security concerns and ongoing operations," the State Department announced Monday.

It's unusual for a secretary of State to meet with combatant commanders, so keep an eye out for news about the visit.

 

DEFENSE BILL AMENDMENTS ROLL IN: Every year hundreds of amendments are filed on the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), while only a few, if any, are actually voted on.

But The Hill's Jordain Carney is diligently pouring over the amendments nonetheless, highlighting the most interesting.

Among them, Senate Democrats want to block defense funding from being used for the border wall.

Spearheaded by Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders surge triggers Dem angst As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (D-Ill.), the amendment would prohibit Trump from using national defense funds authorized by the mammoth policy bill toward the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The amendment would also prohibit Trump from using national defense funds authorized between fiscal years 2015 and 2019 as part of the NDAA.

The amendment is supported by Democratic Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Experts criticize changes to EPA lead, copper rule | House panel looks into plan to limit powers of EPA science advisers | Senate bill aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 Overnight Energy: Trump budget slashes EPA funding | International hunting council disbands amid lawsuit | Bill targets single-use plastics Bill targets single-use plastics in push to make manufacturers responsible MORE (N.M.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Pentagon transferring .8 billion to border wall 'Birds of Prey' movie reveals Harley Quinn voted for Sanders MORE (Vt.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzBooker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium Poll: Majority of Democrats say Electoral College delegates should cast ballots based on popular vote Democrats praise Romney for breaking with GOP on convicting Trump MORE (Hawaii), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senator: 'The ultimate of ironies' for Trump to hit Romney for invoking his faith Committee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Democrats cry foul over Schiff backlash MORE (Mont.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students Senators to meet with Zelensky after impeachment trial MORE (Conn.). Leahy is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, while Tester is the ranking member on the panel's Department of Homeland Security subcommittee.

Honoring McCain: Another amendment of interest revives a bipartisan push to start a human rights commission named after the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEleventh Democratic presidential debate to be held in Phoenix Moderate Democrats now in a race against the clock Biden on Graham's push for investigation: 'I don't know what happened' to him MORE (R-Ariz.).

The commission, according to the legislation, would hold hearings and briefings on human rights violations and collaborate with the Trump administration and outside groups on human rights initiatives.

Sens. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump McConnell displays mastery of Senate with impeachment victory Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle MORE (D-Del.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump pick for Fed seat takes bipartisan fire Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday Coronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 MORE (R-N.C.), who co-chair the Senate Human Rights Caucus, first introduced legislation to create the commission named after McCain late last year.

In addition to Coons and Tillis, Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Judd Gregg: Bloomberg rising MORE (D-Minn.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' The 8 Republicans who voted to curb Trump's Iran war powers MORE (R-Ind.), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthJoe Walsh ends GOP primary challenge to Trump Illinois senators meet with Amtrak CEO over ,000 price tag for wheelchair users Democrats ask Amtrak to review policies after wheelchair users quoted K ticket price MORE (D-Ill.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyMassachusetts Democrats question deployment of Border Patrol teams to sanctuary cities Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Senate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign MORE (D-Mass.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Toward 'Super Tuesday' — momentum, money and delegates Trump unleashed: President moves with a free hand post-impeachment MORE (R-Maine), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students MORE (D-Va.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Budget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight MORE (D-Mass.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPeace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela USDA takes heat as Democrats seek probe into trade aid MORE (R-Fla.), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle The Hill's Morning Report - Trump defense rests, GOP struggles to bar witnesses GOP confident of win on witnesses MORE (R-Okla.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' The 8 Republicans who voted to curb Trump's Iran war powers MORE (R-Kan.) are listed as cosponsors to the amendment.

 

UN NOMINEE GETS HEARING: Kelly Craft, President Trump's nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will get her confirmation hearing Wednesday.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has officially scheduled Craft for 10:15 a.m., according to a press advisory issued Monday.

Craft, currently the U.S. ambassador to Canada, would replace Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyLatest Bolton revelations are no game-changer Is Mike Pence preparing to resign, assume the presidency, or both? Judd Apatow urges Georgia voters to get rid of Doug Collins after 'terrorists' comment MORE, who resigned her post at the end of 2018. The position has remained vacant for six months.

Background: Trump announced plans to nominate Craft in February after his first choice, former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, abruptly withdrew from consideration after it was revealed she had employed a nanny who lacked proper authorization to work in the U.S. Craft was not officially nominated to the position until last month.

Craft is a Kentucky native and the wife of billionaire coal executive Joe Craft; both are influential Republican donors. She is likely to face some tough questions about her family's business interests and her views on climate change during her confirmation hearing, as well as questions about geopolitical issues from North Korea to Iran.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the five years since the Ukrainian revolution at 2:30 p.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2RkaMS5

Deputy assistant secretary of the Army for strategy and acquisition reform Alexis Lasselle Ross will discuss the Army's new policy on intellectual property at 1:30 p.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://bit.ly/2INKALR

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US-Iran tensions rise: Five things to know about oil tanker attack

-- The Hill: Judge dismisses House lawsuit over border wall funding at their request

-- The Hill: Opinion: It's a mistake to send more US troops to Poland

-- The Hill: Opinion: The costs of confrontation with Iran are mounting

-- Reuters: Exclusive: U.S. preparing to send more troops to Middle East - sources

-- Associated Press: US: Iran should still comply with nuke deal Trump derided

-- Navy Times: With a new team of prosecutors, the Navy takes a final shot at SEAL Eddie Gallagher