The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2017
CONGRESS STRATEGIZES AHEAD OF TRUMP’S DECISION ON IRAN DEAL

President Trump is under pressure as he considers de-certifying the Iran nuclear deal, a move that would ignore warnings from both inside and outside his administration, and members of Congress are strategizing in preparation. Leading House Republicans met with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster Wednesday evening for a classified briefing on the administration’s plan for the 2015 agreement. Emerging from the meeting, McMaster told reporters the meeting had been “great.”  House Democrats met earlier in the day with former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who were the primary negotiators of the deal.

Some Democrats have said it would be difficult to join in a bipartisan plan to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Trump’s strenuous opposition to the Iran deal agreement means any attempt to change the conditions could be interpreted by Tehran as an effort to eradicate the deal entirely. “The effect of what the president has done has really been to constrain our freedom of action,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), “because steps we might have taken to constrain Iran’s malevolent activity will now be viewed through the prism of the president’s hostility to the nuclear deal. Ironically he may have limited our ability to confront Iran, rather than expand it.” Washington Post, Reuters
Related:
CNN: Trump Iran Deal Plan Risks Opening Nuclear ‘Pandora’s Box’
Foreign Policy: Trump Is Inching Toward War With Iran’s Revolutionary Guards
Al Jazeera: What You Need to Know About Trump and the Iran Deal
NPR: What Is — And Isn't — Covered By The Iranian Nuclear Deal

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ACCUSED OF DRAGGING ITS FEET ON RUSSIA SANCTIONS
More than two months after they helped shepherd a bill through Congress that slapped new sanctions on Russia, two top senators are accusing the Trump administration of dragging its feet on implementing the law. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) say the Trump administration has still not provided key details to begin enforcement of the sanctions against Russia –- after the president begrudgingly signed the bill that was passed overwhelmingly by Congress.

The Trump administration had until October 1 to list which Russian defense and intelligence individuals and entities it would target under the new sanctions –- something it still has not done. Instead, the administration has only taken the first step, a formality in which it officially assigned this responsibility to the State Department, Treasury Department, and Director of National Intelligence's office. “The delay calls into question the Trump administration’s commitment to the sanctions bill,” the two senators said. ABC News, The Hill

NUNES SIGNS OFF ON NEW SUBPOENAS TO FIRM BEHIND TRUMP-RUSSIA DOSSIER
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-CA) has issued subpoenas to the firm Fusion GPS, which produced the dossier of memos on alleged Russian efforts to aid the Trump campaign. The subpoenas, which were issued on October 4, were signed by Rep. Nunes, despite the fact that he announced earlier this year he would step aside from directing the committee’s Russia inquiry after becoming the subject of an ethics investigation into his handling of classified information. The move to issue the subpoenas reportedly angered some on the committee who say Rep. Nunes is seeking to direct an investigation he is supposed to have no involvement in leading. CNN, LA Times

The House Intelligence Committee has also requested information from the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica about its work for President Trump’s presidential campaign as part of its investigation. Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, had holdings in Cambridge Analytica worth between $1 million and $5 million as recently as April of this year and previously sat on the board of Cambridge Analytica. The Daily Beast, The Hill

President's lawyers may offer Mueller a meeting with Trump: Donald Trump’s lawyers are open to having the president sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of a wider posture of cooperation with Mueller’s Russia probe. If Mueller doesn’t request an interview by Thanksgiving, Trump’s lawyers may even force the issue by volunteering Trump’s time, an official said. The White House believes such an interview could help Mueller wrap up the probe faster and dispel the cloud of suspicion surrounding the president. Trump told reporters this spring that he was “100 percent” willing to testify under oath about alleged Russian ties to his campaign. Politico

Trump, Mattis dispute NBC News report on nuclear arsenal: President Trump on Wednesday lashed out over an NBC News report saying that he had pushed senior aides in July for a major expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The president’s request reportedly prompted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to refer to Trump as a “moron” after the meeting at the Pentagon. On Twitter, Trump called the report “pure fiction made up to demean” him and questioned whether networks that report what he called “Fake News” should be stripped of their broadcasting licenses. Defense Secretary James Mattis also disputed the NBC News report. “Recent reports that the president called for an increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal are absolutely false. This kind of erroneous reporting is irresponsible,” he said. Politico, Washington Post, Reuters

Trump to appoint Lockheed Martin executive to top Pentagon policy job: President Trump plans to name John Rood, a senior executive at defense contractor Lockheed Martin, as undersecretary of defense for policy, the Pentagon’s No. 3 job, the White House said Wednesday. Rood, a 20-year veteran of various roles in the federal government, previously served as Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation under the George W. Bush administration. Reuters, The Hill

Trump to nominate Kelly’s White House deputy as DHS secretary: The White House announced on Wednesday that President Donald Trump will nominate Kirstjen Nielsen to run the Department of Homeland Security. Nielsen served as White House chief of staff John Kelly’s top aide during his time as DHS secretary and moved with him to the West Wing as his principal deputy chief of staff when he was appointed in July, leaving the Cabinet post vacant. Politico


NEW AFGHAN PEACE TALKS EXPECTED, BUT TALIBAN PARTICIPATION UNCLEAR
Representatives of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the U.S. will meet in Oman next week to discuss reviving peace talks with Afghan Taliban militants, officials said Wednesday. The four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group has been trying to ease the path to direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with little success. It was unclear whether Afghan Taliban representatives would join the talks in Oman next week. Taliban sources said they had not yet received an invitation and planned to skip the discussions in Muscat, casting doubt on efforts to revive the negotiations. Talks and efforts to kick start negotiations have failed following the 2015 announcement of the death of the Taliban’s founder and long-time leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, in 2013. Reuters

NIGERIANS DISPLACED BY BOKO HARAM NOT READY TO RETURN HOME
The vast majority of almost 2 million Nigerians driven from their homes by the conflict with Boko Haram cannot return because of a lack of security, the Norwegian Refugee Council said Wednesday. About 1.8 million people have been displaced in Nigeria by the conflict, which has left at least 20,000 dead and shows little sign of ending as it drags into its ninth year. Many of the displaced say they have tried to return home, only to be forced to flee back to safer camps and cities because of continued attacks by Boko Haram and general insecurity. Although Boko Haram in recent months has increased its attacks on displaced people, they still feel safer in camps and urban centers than in their communities, the report said. The Nigerian government and military have repeatedly said the insurgency has been “defeated.” Reuters

MATTIS TO CONSIDER STRATEGY AFTER NIGER AMBUSH
Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Wednesday that the military is looking into what changes, if any, should be made after an ambush in Niger killed four U.S. soldiers last week. The incident, which U.S. officials suspect was carried out by a local ISIS affiliate, has thrown a spotlight on the U.S. counterterrorism mission in the West African country. U.S. forces do not have a direct combat mission in Niger, but their assistance to its army includes intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in counterterror efforts. A diplomat with knowledge of the incident said French officials were frustrated by the U.S. troops’ actions, saying they had acted on only limited intelligence and without contingency plans in place. Reuters

Trump lit ‘the fuse of war,’ North Korean foreign minister says: North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Wednesday that President Donald Trump has “lit the fuse of the war” against Pyongyang, Russian state news agency Tass reported. The statement follows weeks of escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. The North Korean minister cited Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September as the tipping point. “By his bellicose and insane statement in the UN arena, Trump - it can be said - lit the wick of the war against us. We need to settle the final score, only with a hail of fire, not words.” The remarks come a day after the U.S. military flew two strategic bombers over the Korean Peninsula. CNN, USAToday

Lethal roadside bomb that killed scores of U.S. troops reappears in Iraq: A roadside bomb that killed an American soldier in Iraq earlier this month was of a particularly lethal design not seen in six years. The device was of a variety known as an explosively formed penetrator, according to initial investigations, a weapon notorious for its destructive and deadly impact on armored vehicles and the service members inside them. The devices were considered a hallmark of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias battling the U.S. occupation after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. But the technology used to make them proliferated, and cruder versions were also deployed by Sunni militants. Washington Post

ISIS to fight ‘til the end’ in Raqqa: ISIS fighters in the Syrian city of Raqqa are expected to fight to the death, but some local militants have surrendered recently as U.S.-backed forces close in on their last strongholds, U.S. coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said Wednesday. Colonel Dillon said officials in the Raqqa Civil Council, which is set to govern the city after ISIS has been driven out, are working to negotiate the safe passage of thousands of civilians being held hostage. The U.S. coalition will not support any negotiated withdrawal of fighters from the city, he added. Reuters

Yemen arrests point to widening rift in Saudi-led coalition: Yemeni Islamists say forces backed by the UAE have arrested ten members of a local Muslim Brotherhood affiliate in the southern city of Aden. The Islah Party said in a statement Wednesday that those arrested include prominent party member Mohammed Abdel-Malak, whose house was raided. It called for the release of all those detained. The arrests point to heightened tensions within the Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite Houthi rebels. Islah is allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, but the UAE, a key member of the coalition, views it as a threat because of its links to the Brotherhood. Associated Press

Kurds offer talks with Baghdad over airport, banks ban: The Kurdistan Regional Government on Thursday offered to hold talks with Iraqi authorities on the status of Kurdish airports, border posts and banks, on which Baghdad placed restrictions following an independence referendum. “To avoid this collective punishment, we invite (Iraqi Prime Minister) Haider al-Abadi, again, that we ready to any from of dialogue and negotiations in conformity with the Iraqi Constitution,” the Kurdistan government said. The statement may mark a change of tack by Kurdish authorities. On Wednesday, the Kurds accused Iraqi forces and Iranian-trained Iraqi paramilitaries of “preparing a major attack” on the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and near Mosul in northern Iraq. Reuters


UK PROPOSES TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR UNSOPHISTICATED PLOTS
The UK is considering tougher penalties to deal with the “less sophisticated” but “equally as deadly” terror plots seen in recent years. Existing legislation imposes lesser sentences on those who plan rudimentary plots with cars or knives, not bombs. Under the new legislation, minimum terror sentences would rise to three to six years, compared to 21 months to five years under current law. Sentences for people accessing and distributing extremist material online would also be toughened.

Lord Justice Treacy, chairman of the Sentencing Council, said, “we want to ensure that courts have comprehensive guidance for dealing with these extremely serious cases.” He added that “offenses vary greatly and could include someone who tries to make a bomb, another who urges others to join a terrorist organisation or a group plotting a murderous attack on the public.” The draft guidelines will now be the subject of a six-week consultation. A final set of guidance will then be produced that will come into force early in 2018. BBC News, Independent, The Guardian

Australia jet and navy data stolen in ‘extensive’ hack: Sensitive information about Australia’s defence programs has been stolen in an “extensive” cyber hack. About 30 gigabytes of data was compromised in the hack on a government contractor, including details about new fighter planes and navy vessels. The data was commercially sensitive but not classified, the government said. It did not know if another state was involved. A spokesman for the Australian Cyber Security Centre, a government agency, said the government would not release further details about the cyber attack. It said in a report on Monday that it had responded to 734 cyber attacks on “systems of national interest” for the year ending on June 30. BBC News, Reuters

German journalist goes on trial in Turkey over ‘terror group membership:’ A German journalist and translator went on trial in Turkey on Wednesday on charges of membership in a banned radical leftist group, one of several cases that has led to a crisis in relations between Ankara and Berlin. Mesale Tolu, who was initially detained in late April, is charged with membership of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party which is outlawed in Turkey as a terror group. She is one of several German nationals detained under the state of emergency imposed in Turkey after the a failed coup attempt in July 2016, a crackdown Berlin has criticized as excessive. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in jail. Agence France Presse

Syrian working on prison torture film attacked in Istanbul: A Syrian film director working on a feature about one of the most notorious prisons in the country is in intensive care after being stabbed in Turkey. Muhammad Bayazid, who was documenting torture at Tadmur prison in eastern Syria, was attacked on Tuesday evening in Istanbul. Bayazid’s wife, Samah, called the attack an “assassination attempt.” Tadmor prison, located in Palmyra, is infamous for the killing of hundreds of detainees there in 1980. BBC News, The Guardian
TOP OP-EDS
Syria’s civil war is a long way from over — and here’s why that’s important: “It is irrational to expect Assad to send any aid or money to the areas that he has bombarded, besieged and starved for the past six years. Assad will use any funds sent to the Syrian government to strengthen his cronies and his warlords, to feed his paramilitary militias and to keep punishing disloyal communities,” Ibrahim al-Assil writes in the Washington Post. “These have consistently been his priorities, and there is no reason for the international community to assume they have changed.”

The trouble with arming Ukraine: “Those who call for sending lethal arms to Ukraine claim that American weaponry will strengthen Kiev’s hand and compel Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate a just political settlement that ends the war in Ukraine’s Donbas region,” Rajan Menon and William Ruger write in Foreign Affairs. “They’re misguided. Worse, their proposal could be dangerous, for Ukraine and the United States.”

Your apocalyptic fantasies aren’t helping the North Korea crisis: “The probability of a U.S. military attack against the territory or assets of nuclear-armed North Korea is higher now than at any point in the past 20 years,” Micah Zenko writes in Foreign Policy. “Many of the early warning indicators of a war are present: escalatory rhetoric, messaging incoherence, unprecedented military maneuvers, and destabilizing ‘swaggering’ in the form of nuclear tests and missile launches. What’s been missing amid the name-calling and millenarian fantasies has been a serious debate about the Donald Trump administration’s policies toward North Korea.”

Trump repeats Obama’s mistakes with Turkey: “Like Obama in his first term, Trump now suffers the delusion that a personal relationship with Turkey’s autocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, can advance U.S. interests,” Eli Lake writes in Bloomberg View. “Instead, this putative ally is acting like an enemy.”
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