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Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block $23B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses

Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block $23B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses
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Happy Wednesday 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: After election-related delays, negotiations on the annual defense policy bill are chugging along.

The House on Wednesday voted to formally enter into negotiations with the Senate over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The unanimous consent vote to go to conference on the NDAA sets up the endgame on a bill that 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 has threatened to veto.

The Senate is expected to soon follow suit on voting to start negotiations. Though talks won’t be considered official until the Senate votes, lawmakers tasked with negotiating the bill already held their ceremonial first meeting Wednesday morning.

The big issue: The thorniest issue is expected to be a requirement that the Pentagon change the names of military bases and other property that are named after Confederate leaders. The House bill would require the change in one year, while the Senate bill mandates it in three.

The requirement has elicited a veto threat from Trump.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (R-Okla.) has vowed to remove the requirement. But it is highly unusual for something that’s in both bills to be removed from the final version, and Inhofe has not explained how he expects to overcome bipartisan support for changing the names.

Democrats have also signaled they will not budge on the issue.

More politics?: Waiting until after the election was supposed to relieve some political pressure on negotiations, but control of the Senate is still up in the air pending the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia in January.

Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses Defense bill moves to formal negotiations with Confederate name fight looming Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee who is retiring from Congress at the end of the year, expressed concern Tuesday that the Georgia runoffs could complicate negotiations.

But Thornberry also suggested that Democrat 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 winning the presidential election should mean less pressure to keep the Confederate bases issue in the bill.

“I am concerned that, especially with the Georgia runoffs, that political considerations on really an issue that doesn't significantly affect the ability of the country to defend itself could take precedence over all of the things that do affect the ability of the country to protect itself,” Thornberry said. “And, just to say what everybody knows, the incoming Biden administration is going to deal with the base naming issues anyway.”

The conferees: Full lists of the negotiators on the House side are here for Democrats and here for Republicans.

SENATORS SEEK TO BLOCK UAE ARMS SALE: A bipartisan trio of senators launched an effort Wednesday to block the Trump administration’s $23 billion arms package to the United Arab Emirates.

Sens. 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.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE (R-Ky.); and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE (D-Conn.) introduced four separate resolutions Wednesday that would kill the administration’s plan to sell the UAE F-35 fighter jets, armed drones, missiles and bombs.

“As I tried to warn the Trump administration, circumventing deliberative processes for considering a massive infusion of weapons to a country in a volatile region with multiple ongoing conflicts is downright irresponsible,” Menendez said in a statement.

The why: Lawmakers have been expressing concern about the sale eroding Israel’s military advantage in the region. The U.S. commitment to Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge is enshrined in a 2008 law.

Lawmakers have also raised concerns about the Yemen civil war, where the UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.

“The Emiratis are an important security partner, but their recent behavior indicates that these weapons may be used in violation of U.S. and international law,” Murphy said in a statement Wednesday. “The UAE has violated past arms sales agreements, resulting in U.S. arms ending up in the arms of dangerous militia groups, and they have failed to comply with international law in Libya and Yemen.”

Background: Last week, the Trump administration notified Congress that it approved selling the UAE up to 50 F-35s worth $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions worth $10 billion.

The formal notification kicked off a 30-day period in which Congress can block the sales with resolutions such as the ones introduced Wednesday.

Under the law governing U.S. arms sales, such resolutions are considered “privileged,” meaning senators can force a vote even if Senate leadership doesn’t support them.

Senators could force a vote as soon as 10 days after the resolutions are introduced.

MORE IRAN SANCTIONS: The Trump administration on Wednesday announced sanctions on senior Iranian officials and prominent organizations connected to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over their roles in the deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters last year.

The sanctions announced Wednesday target three senior Iranian officials, a so-called charitable organization related to Iran’s supreme leader and dozens of other individuals and entities that impact key sectors of Iran’s economy in the fields of finance, energy, construction and mining.

“The Iranian regime maintains its grip on power through brute force, with no concern for the wellbeing of the Iranian people,” Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden's State Department picks are a diplomatic slam dunk Kissinger tells Biden to go easy on China Saudi-Israeli diplomacy progresses amid looming Middle East challenges MORE said in a statement.

The sanctions were announced on the anniversary of the protests one year ago, when Iranians took to the streets to protest a sharp increase in fuel prices. The demonstrations quickly grew into mass opposition protests against the government.

The Iranian government reacted with a brutal crackdown, reportedly killing 1,500 Iranians, although exact numbers have been difficult to independently verify, and instituting a digital blackout to suppress information.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, will provide keynote remarks at the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations virtual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3kH936b

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have a closed-door briefing on arm sales to the United Arab Emirates at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3nvs7pU

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