Overnight Defense: US, Russia closer on nuclear treaty extension after Moscow accepts warhead freeze | Khashoggi's fiancee sues Saudi crown prince | Biden nets hundreds more national security endorsements

Overnight Defense: US, Russia closer on nuclear treaty extension after Moscow accepts warhead freeze | Khashoggi's fiancee sues Saudi crown prince | Biden nets hundreds more national security endorsements
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Happy Tuesday 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: The United States and Russia are inching closer to extending the last remaining nuclear treaty between the two countries.

Progress on Tuesday comes days after talks appeared dead when both sides rejected the other’s previous offers.

Clinching a nuclear agreement, while not as extensive as what he first sought, would give President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE a foreign policy win to tout in the closing days of the presidential election in which he is trailing Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE in national polls and key battleground states.

What happened Tuesday: In a statement from its Foreign Ministry, Russia said it would be open to a mutual nuclear warhead freeze with the United States in exchange for extending the New START treaty for a year.

“Russia has proposed extending the New START for one year and is ready to assume a political obligation together with the United States to freeze the sides’ existing arsenals of nuclear warheads during this period,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement, adding the offer would only be possible if the United States does not make additional demands.

The yearlong extension of New START, Russia said, “could be used to hold comprehensive bilateral talks on the future of nuclear missile control, with the mandatory discussion of all factors that can influence strategic stability.”

The State Department replied that it "appreciate[s] the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control."

"The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement," department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. "We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same."

Not there yet: While there now appears to be general agreement on freezing each side’s warheads, the United States and Russia reportedly still need to agree on the definition of warhead, as well as verification measures for the freeze.

Arms control experts said Tuesday those are not small hurdles to overcome.

“A disagreement over whether verification is needed is pretty significant,” tweeted James Acton, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s nuclear policy program. “If the US wants a deal before the election then either (i) [U.S.] will have to back down and accept no verification; or .. (ii) the US will have to accept a Russian promise to negotiate verification arrangements since it’s not possible to do so in 2 weeks. Both are possibilities; both are far from assured.”

In his own tweet, Arms Control Association director Daryl Kimball said “the two sides are closer but there are still differences. Making a one year freeze ‘verifiable’ involves agreement on counting rules, joint stockpile declarations, and monitoring methods. Earlier U.S. proposals on these specifics had been rejected by” Russia.

Congressional reaction: Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (D-N.J.) said in a statement Tuesday he was pleased the Trump administration “has adopted Democrats' position on strategic arms control.”

“As we have repeatedly told President Trump for years, it is in the national interest of the United States to extend the New START treaty as we continue dialogue with both Russia and China on key nuclear issues such as limitations on non-strategic weapons and the inclusion in arms control agreements of new nuclear delivery systems,” Menendez said.

“Unfortunately, the administration’s decision, while welcomed, is only a temporary Band-Aid which fails to resolve the critical arms control issues facing our nation today,” he added. “The real impact of a freeze on the total number of nuclear warheads will be unclear unless the Trump administration can ensure Russia sticks to the agreement’s terms through robust verification mechanisms.”

KHASHOGGI’S FIANCEE SUES MBS: The fiancée of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has filed a lawsuit in the United States against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi officials aiming to hold the de facto leader of the kingdom responsible for the writer's death.

“I want the truth,” Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancée, said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “We know who is responsible, but we want the whole truth and we want accountability.”

“I asked the United States government — a nation that has stood for justice, accountability and human rights — I ask that you stand with me and all those who love Jamal and say, we will support your efforts to fully uncover the truth and ensure that those responsible are found liable in a court of law,” she added.

Reminder: Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government, was killed and dismembered in 2018 by a hit squad while at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for a marriage license with Cengiz.

The CIA has reportedly concluded Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, though Saudi officials have denied he had any knowledge of the plot.

Khashoggi’s death prompted international outrage, including calls from U.S. lawmakers in both parties to revisit the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

But the Trump administration has been reluctant to publicly blame high-level Saudi officials for Khashoggi’s murder, with Trump defending the U.S. relationship with Riyadh as necessary to counter Iran and bolster the U.S. economy with arm sales.

The goal: Cengiz’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, seeks monetary damages, the amount of which would be determined by a jury.

But Faisal Gill, one of the lawyers representing Cengiz and co-plaintiff Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said the goal “first and foremost” is to use the discovery process to get documents, recordings and other evidence they believe the Saudi, Turkish and U.S. governments have, as well as have a court of law hold Prince Mohammed liable for the death.

BIDEN RACKS UP MORE NATSEC ENDORSEMENTS: Nearly 300 more former national security officials have signed onto a letter endorsing Biden for president.

The 291 new signatures announced Tuesday join 489 national security leaders who previously endorsed former Vice President Biden as having “the character, principles, wisdom and leadership necessary to address a world on fire.”

“The initial release of the letter was a clarion call to so many patriotic Americans who believed they must do their part to elect Joe Biden,” Michael Smith, executive director of National Security Leaders for Biden, the group that organized the letter, said in a statement. “It is no secret that our nation is in turmoil. We believe Joe Biden and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Biden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members Ossoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns MORE will help truly unite the United States and navigate this nation through this troubled time.”

New names: The new signatories include some officials who served under Trump, such as retired Army Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden, who served as executive director of Marine Corps Forces Pacific until 2019 after retiring from active duty in 2009, and Anita Friedt, a career State Department official who started during the Reagan administration, worked on arms control during the Obama administration and stayed under Trump until 2019.

Also new on the letter is retired Lt. Col. Alfred Rascon, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2000 for heroic actions during the Vietnam War. He is one of 81 retired general and flag officers who added their names to the letter, bringing the letter’s total number of retired officers to 284.

The new signatures on the endorsement letter also include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R), who served as the first Homeland Security secretary under George W. Bush and previously announced he was voting for Biden.


Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown will speak at the day two of the virtual Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office Advanced Manufacturing Olympics at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/34eCrvz

Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, will deliver a pre-recorded speech opening the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ “International Security at the Nuclear Nexus” event at noon. https://bit.ly/37pHiw7

Director of the Defense Digital Service Brett Goldstein will participate in a webinar hosted by the Center for a New American Security at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/34eDdIZ

Blue Star Families and the Association of Defense Communities will host a virtual event on the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on military communities, featuring a keynote speech from under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness Matthew Donovan, at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/3jeciRR


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