Trump leans on China, North Korea; Dunford takes Kushner to Iraq; Egypt at the WH; #SAS2017 livestream; Q&A on Space War; And a bit more.

Trump teases unilateral action (strikes?) against North Korea just days ahead of his White House meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

President Donald Trump: “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone,” in an Oval Office interview with the Financial Times

FT: “Asked if that meant dealing with Pyongyang one on one, he said: ‘I don’t have to say any more. Totally.’” But, Trump added, “I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so.”

Added K.T. McFarland, his deputy national security adviser, in a separate FT interview: “There is a real possibility that North Korea will be able to hit the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile by the end of the first Trump term.” That sounds like the same “within five years” threat we’ve heard from Pentagon officials for years, but there’s no doubt the Trump administration is eyeing Pyongyang’s missile developments. Read on, here.

Let it be a Korean nuclear arms race? South Korea says “nuclear weapons can only be deterred by nuclear arms…The statement, however, said that even if Seoul takes nuclear steps, it would promise to target only North Korea, and immediately dismantle its nuclear arms should Pyongyang denuclearize itself.” That, also from Yonhap this morning, here.

Just in time: Trump’s National Security aides have completed their North Korea policy review, Reuters reported this weekend. “The review, which was led by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, proposes a multi-pronged approach aimed at tightening the screws on North Korea economically and militarily, [a U.S.] official said. It will be up to Trump to decide how and when to proceed, and he could also send the review back for further work, the official said.”

What we know about what’s on the table: “While most details remained under wraps, senior U.S. officials told Reuters recently that options under consideration included tougher sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system, which could entail ‘secondary sanctions’ against Chinese banks and firms that do the most business with Pyongyang.” More here.

The South Korean, U.S., and Japanese militaries are practicing hunting North Korean submarines “in the waters between South Korea and Japan near Jeju Island” today, South Korea’s Yonhap news reports. “South Korea’s Navy will dispatch the 4,500-ton Kang Gam Chan destroyer and a Lynx helicopter, with the U.S. sending the USS McCampbell, a destroyer armed with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system, an MH-60 anti-submarine chopper and a P-3 Orion patrol plane. Japan’s chopper-carrying destroyer, the Sawagiri, will also join the drill.” More here.

ICYMI: Back stateside, concerned members of Congress have proposed a bill restricting Trump from launching a nuclear first strike.

Former SecDef Ash Carter has some thoughts on the North Korean situation. He told ABC News’ This Week on Sunday that a U.S. pre-emptive strike on North Korea could lead to “invasion” of South Korea. Interview, here.

Under the radar: The Trump administration is reportedly considering selling F-35s and the THAAD anti-missile system to Taiwan, according to this weekend story from The Japan News.

Dunford invites Jared Kushner to Iraq. Kushner has quite a plate full of crises to resolve, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, discussions with Mexico and West Wing prep for the visit with Xi Jinping later this week. But first, Kushner needs the latest update on the war against the Islamic State, according to Dunford’s spokesman, Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, speaking to The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold is also on board, filing from Baghdad that Kusher did not speak to reporters.

The Associated Press adds: “A senior administration official said Kushner wanted to see the situation in Iraq for himself and show support for the Iraqi government…His visit marked an early foray for the Trump administration into the situation in Iraq and came just two weeks after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he was assured by the president the U.S. will accelerate its support for his country’s struggle against the Islamic State group.” More here.  

Said Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center: The move by Dunford and Kushner is “Smart,” he said. “Maybe [Kushner] doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and is in hurry to find out.”

Also today: Defense One is livestreaming the Navy League’s annual three-day Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2017. It began just under an hour ago, but you can catch select events at our livestream—along with a link to the full agenda—here.

And don’t miss a special Twitter Q&A at 11 a.m. EST where Defense One‘s Marcus Weisgerber will moderate a chat with Maj. Gen. Richard Cripwell, the British defense attache to the United States. Topics will include the last week’s meeting between Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, NATO and Afghanistan. Make sure you use the hashtag #CripwellChat if you have a question.

One more thing: Who wants to get smart on rocket ships, satellites & space war? It’s all on tap this week at the National Space Symposium. The annual event in Colorado Springs, not far from Air Force Space Command, kicks off today today, but the big speeches are on Tuesday afternoon. They include Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of Space Command; National Reconnaissance Office Director Betty Sapp; and Boeing defense CEO Leanne Caret. Defense One Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber is there so make sure you follow him on Twitter @MarcusReports for the latest.


From Defense One

America’s Foreign-Policy Voice Is Fracturing. Trump’s Cuts Would Make Things Worse // Rose Jackson of the Secure Partnerships Initiative: The post-9/11 explosion in security-assistance funding has muddied the roles of diplomats and generals. A re-empowered State Department could help fix that.

Elon Musk’s Reusable Rocket Just Changed the Space Game // Tim Fernholz, via Quartz: The successful test flight of a used rocket is a milestone in the effort to drastically lower the cost of putting a satellite in orbit.

Trump Team Seems to Stay the Course With the Last Administration’s Cyber Efforts // Joseph Marks, via NextGov: Two recent moves suggest the White House isn’t seeking a sea change in international cyber policy.

General Flynn Certainly Has a Story to Tell’ // Matt Ford, via The Atlantic: The former national-security adviser has asked congressional committees and the FBI for immunity in exchange for his testimony, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Comey on the Political Firestorms His Decisions Stoke: ‘Honestly, I Don’t Care’ // Charles S. Clark, via GovExec: The FBI director talks about making hard choices and the bureau’s future at intel contractor gathering.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. In Montana 21 years ago today, “Unabomber” Theodore John Kaczynski was arrested by the FBI for his involvement in 16 mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 during a nearly two-decade stretch. Got a message for us? Let us know by clicking this link to email: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


What Kushner is likely to discover: There have been now two weeks of stalled gains in Mosul, according to the very thorough Iraq analyst, Joel Wing, summarizing recent events leading up to this weekend.

The short take: “The Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division are holding down Islamic State forces in the Old City along the Tigris River while the Golden Division are moving up its flank and advancing in the west fighting in areas such as Yarmouk.”

The bad news: “For the first time the Islamic State was able to seize some territory from the Iraqi forces (ISF) inside Mosul. The insurgents took the Rajim al-Hadid neighborhood that was just freed on March 22. The area was being held by a tribal Hashd unit probably made up of locals…A member of the Ninewa security committee said that there have been no real advances by the police for the last 15 days in the Old City [in West Mosul]. That stalemate has led to a revision of the battle plan.”

Where to go from here: “While the police hold down Islamic State fighters in the Old City, the [special forces of Iraq’s] Golden Division is moving up the flank to surround the district, while taking areas in the western section of the city.” Read on, here.

For your eyes only: The Marines’ PR folks would like you to know that USMC artillery units are fighting ISIS in Syria. Video sending that message, here.

Mid-length read: “A Winner In Syria’s Civil War: Hezbollah.” That from The Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib. “Thanks to money and arms from Tehran, Hezbollah now stands almost on a par with Iran as a protector of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, and as a sponsor of Shiite fighting forces in Syria.”

The intent: “Hezbollah is playing for lasting political and social influence, Western and Arab diplomats say. The group has broadened its mandate from countering Israel to fighting Sunni extremist groups across the region to protect religious minorities – not only Shiites but also Christians. It has begun replicating inside Syria the social programs that brought it loyalty and political success at home.” Story, here.

Mid-length read #2: U.S. sees Iran in Bahrain. “Six years after the start of a peaceful Shiite protest movement against the country’s Sunni-led government, U.S. and European analysts now see an increasingly grave threat emerging on the margins of the uprising: heavily armed militant cells supplied and funded, officials say, by Iran,” the Washington Post reported this weekend.

“Documents and interviews with current and former intelligence officials describe an elaborate training program, orchestrated by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to school Bahraini militants in the techniques of advanced bombmaking and guerrilla warfare,” the Post reported. “A wide variety of increasingly sophisticated weaponry — much of it forensically linked to Iran — has been discovered in Bahrain over the past three years, including hundreds of pounds of military-grade explosives that almost certainly originated in Iran, U.S. and European intelligence officials say. The efforts appear to mirror similar ongoing operations to build a network of pro-Tehran militant groups elsewhere in the Middle East, from Yemen to Iraq and Syria, several analysts said.” More here.

Also Monday: Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi visits the White House, a first for an Egyptian head of state since 2009. And he’s got a few big topics on the docket: “the fight against terrorism, the Middle East’s multiple wars, the refugee crisis and Egypt’s anemic economy,” the Washington Post reports in a preview.

Trump has carved out two and a half hours with Sissi, to include bilateral, an expanded meeting and then lunch.

Not happening today: a joint press conference with the two leaders.

Adds the Post: “A senior administration official told reporters Friday that Sissi’s visit is intended to ‘reboot’ the bilateral relationship and continue the ‘positive momentum.’”

Unlikely to be on the docket: any discussion of human rights. Sissi, of course, “helped engineer the military coup that ousted elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement in 2013,” writes the Post. “In the months after Morsi’s overthrow, security forces cracked down on opposition protests, leaving more than 1,150 people dead.”

Sissi also happened to be the first Arab leader to congratulate Trump on his election victory in November.

Describing Sissi, the White House statement read: “He’s called for reform and moderation of Islamic discourse, initiated courageous and historic economic reforms, and sought to reestablish Egypt’s regional leadership role.”

Some context: “Sissi’s visit comes days after the Trump administration agreed to resume arm sales to Bahrain, removing human-rights-related conditions imposed by Obama,” the Post writes. “Bahrain, which has brutally repressed activists and its Shiite majority, is another vital U.S. ally in the Middle East and is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.” Read the rest, here.

From the Information Operations beat: ISIS thinks, if launched effectively, “media weapons [can] actually be more potent than atomic bombs.” That’s according to a recent analysis by Charlie Winter, writing in Lawfare, and zeroing in on the Islamic State’s “three information principles. First, present an alternative narrative, a comprehensive offer of existence; second, counter the ‘intellectual invasion’ being conducted by the mainstream news media; and, third, launch propaganda ‘projectiles’ against the enemy. Combined, these three facets form the foundations of the group’s propaganda strategy.” Analysis, here.

In Afghanistan, at least 9 civilians were killed—including six children—after coalition forces conducted a controlled detonation of a captured Taliban weapons cache in southern Helmand province, this weekend, NYTs reports. The explosion reportedly leveled a mud house beside the compound where the controlled det occurred, the house’s owner told the Times. More here.  

Coming soon: Army, Navy secretary nominees expected to be named, Defense News reported Friday. “As was first reported by Military Times, the Army secretary spot will be offered to former Army flight surgeon and Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green. His undersecretary is expected to be Ryan McCarthy, a former Army Ranger, staffer for former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, and now a vice president for Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor. For Navy, the nominee will be Richard V. Spencer, a former Marine aviator who serves as the head of Fall Creek Management, LLC, the administration source confirmed.  McCarthy’s nomination was first reported by the Wall Street Journal; Spencer’s by Bloomberg.” More here.

Lastly today: The British navy is not quite as strong as it was in the heady days of the Falklands War, more than 30 years ago, The Telegraph reported Sunday. “As the Government moved to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982, the Royal Navy had no fewer than 127 ships — including 60 destroyers and frigates and a dozen nuclear attack submarines - as well as two major amphibious ships and three aircraft carriers. The latest figures show the Navy has no aircraft carriers in service, 7 nuclear attack submarines, 13 frigates and six destroyers, down from a combined fleet of 33 in 2000.” Read on while our friends across the pond debate the Brexit effect on one particularly famous rock, here.

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