The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Monday, March 5, 2018

South Korean Envoys Meet with Kim Jong-Un in Pyongyang

South Korea’s top national security officer and its spy chief are part of a 10-member delegation that arrived in North Korea today for a visit aimed at paving the way for talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, and the director of the National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, were the first South Korean officials to meet Kim Jong-Un since he took power six years ago, a spokesman for Moon said. The two hope to learn directly from Kim whether the North is interested in negotiating an end to his nuclear weapons program through a dialogue with the United States.

Chung and Suh arrived in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Monday afternoon and were said to be carrying a letter from Moon to Kim. New York Times, NPR


Something is rotten with the state of military commissions: “The military commissions at Guantanamo Bay have just had one hell of a February,” said Scott Anderson in Lawfare. “Each event would normally be cause for concern; together they may be signs of a broader crisis, though the military commissions’ characteristic secrecy makes it hard to tell for certain. At a minimum, the failure to explain and correct these anomalies threatens the military commissions’ already tenuous grasp on public legitimacy and draws further into question their ability to fairly and effectively adjudicate.”

Strongmen are weaker than they look: “Strongmen are back in favor these days. Part of this has to do with U.S. President Donald Trump and his clear disposition toward the tough guys of the world,” writes Steven Cook in Foreign Policy. “It is particularly odd because the strongman, benevolent or otherwise, does not have a good track record.”

Why Putin is rattling his superweapons: “Putin is showing his teeth from a position of weakness, seeking to make the U.S. understand that its strength is irrelevant in dealing with him,” argues Leonid Bershidsky in “It’s unlikely, however, that the U.S. will read his message as he intends: It will want to keep its position of strength and more likely engage in a new arms race than sit down to talk about arms control and some accompanying deal to divide up spheres of influence.”

Is Canada a national security risk? “Islamic suicide bombers are stalking the free world, Russia is saber-rattling, Venezuela is smuggling Hezbollah terrorists into the Western Hemisphere, Iran is building nukes, North Korea is testing missiles to deliver them—and Mr. Trump says that Americans drinking beer out of cans made from Canadian metal is a national-security risk,” said Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal.

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As President Trump appears to lurch from crisis to crisis on the world stage, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have quietly maneuvered to constrain an impulsive commander in chief, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Officials say the two senior Cabinet officers have slow-rolled requests for options on a wide range of policy goals, including exiting the Iran nuclear disarmament deal, reacting to missile strikes into Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed rebels in Yemen, pressuring longtime ally Pakistan by cutting U.S. military aid, and possible limited airstrikes on North Korea's nuclear infrastructure.

Trump is said to blame Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, bristling when his national security advisor has not presented the options he sought, or as quickly as he demanded them. That has given rise to multiple reports that McMaster could resign or be forced out in coming weeks, and added to the portrait of a White House in perpetual turmoil. But when he walks into the Oval Office, McMaster is often caught in a carefully orchestrated manipulation by Mattis and Tillerson to slow the delivery of options they don't want the president to take. Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal

Mueller subpoena: The grand jury investigating alleged collusion between Russia and Donald Trump's presidential campaign has sent a witness a subpoena seeking all emails, text messages, work papers, telephone logs and other documents involving the president and a host of his closest advisers going back to Nov. 1, 2015. Axios, NBC News

Netanyahu in Washington: Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, besieged by a bribery scandal at home, will meet with President Trump today in Washington, where he is expected to receive a warm welcome. Netanyahu will reportedly thank Trump again for the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and encourage him to soon release the Trump administration’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace - a plan that reportedly heavily favors the Israelis. New York Times


A former Burkina Faso soldier may have participated in Friday's simultaneous attacks by al-Qaeda-linked extremists on the army headquarters and heavily-guarded French Embassy in the capital of Burkino Faso.

The government has launched an investigation into the attacks which killed eight soldiers and injured more than 80. French military experts are expected in Ouagadougou to help with the probe, according to a government statement.

One of the killed soldiers is believed to have been fired from the army after a 2011 mutiny and may actually have been an assailant. Many of the attackers were wearing army uniforms, according to witnesses, and some were from Burkina Faso, including two men arrested in connection with the attack. New York Times, Associated Press

Turkey detains 12 ISIS suspects: Police on Monday detained 12 suspected Islamic State militants in the Turkish capital, Ankara, and were searching for eight others, state media reported, as the U.S. Embassy was closed due to an unspecified security threat. Associated Press

Tanks in Iraq: U.S.-made tanks that fell into militia hands has sparked a standoff with Baghdad over assistance. Foreign Policy

Italians registered their dismay with the European political establishment on Sunday, handing a majority of votes in a national election to hard-right and populist forces that ran a campaign fueled by anti-immigrant anger.

The election, the first in five years, was widely seen as a bellwether of the strength of populists on the continent and how far they might advance into the mainstream.

No party received enough votes to rule alone, meaning the country will likely enter a period of political deadlock.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) made significant gains in Sunday’s vote with 31 percent of the vote. The center-right coalition, which includes the League -- also known as the Northern League -- along with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy, is likely to form the largest bloc in both houses of the country's parliament, a combined share of votes totaling over 37 percent. CNN, BBC News, New York Times

A teenager who planned an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack on a pop concert a month after the Manchester Arena bombing has been given a life sentence and told he will serve at least 11 years in prison before being considered for parole.

Lloyd Gunton, 17, researched security for a Justin Bieber gig in Cardiff and wrote a “martyrdom letter.” Police raided the boy’s home in south Wales on the day of the show and found a claw hammer and a gutting knife in his school rucksack. Guardian, BBC News

A London man was convicted Friday of trying to recruit children to carry out Islamic State group-inspired attacks across the British capital.

Prosecutors said 25-year-old Umar Haque “was fascinated by the warped and extreme ideology” of IS and identified multiple attack targets, including Big Ben, Heathrow Airport, banks and shopping centers.

Haque also was accused of radicalizing children at a mosque and two schools, getting them to act out scenarios and showing them beheading videos.

Metropolitan Police counterterrorism commander Dean Haydon said “his aim was to create an army of children” to help carry out attacks at “multiple sites using multiple weapons.” Associated Press, Reuters, Guardian

Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon bewildered many when, on Friday, during a visit to Riyadh, he tweeted a grinning selfie, posing alongside Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khaled bin Salman. It was a dramatic change in tone from Hariri’s last trip to the Saudi capital last year, when he was summoned to the royal offices, stripped of his cellphones and separated from most of his bodyguards before being given a pre-written resignation speech to read on Saudi television. New York Times
Guardian: Saudi Crown Prince Embarks on Foreign Tour to Woo Leaders


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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