Trump and Putin in Vietnam; 3 countries order citizens out of Lebanon; Riyadh-aimed missile bore Iranian markings, USAF says; Laser demo for fighter jet; and just a bit more…

Will Trump meet Putin “on the sidelines” in Danang? That’s the big question looming over today’s White House delegation visit to Vietnam (photos here), where President Trump’s approval rating is higher than in his home country, The New York Times reports. While in Danang, Trump is expected to bring “a strong message on trade” to a meeting today with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders, Reuters reports.

“From this day forward we will compete on a fair and equal basis,” Trump told a gathering of CEOs on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. “What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.”

The Associated Press rolls up some of the economic plans on the table for the region at today’s APEC meeting — none of which seem to have terribly strong prospects — here. Complicating those plans further: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Voice of America’s Steve Herman reports via Twitter this morning.

About that Trump-Putin face-to-face: “There was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Air Force One, the Washington Post reports. But, she added, “Are they going to bump into each other and say hello? Certainly possible and likely…But in terms of a scheduled, formal meeting, there’s not one on the calendar and we don’t anticipate that there will be one.”

Even so, there is a raft of topics on the agenda, should the two leaders meet, the Wall Street Journal and AP reported Thursday, starting with the complex wars in Syria and Ukraine.

On Ukraine: the White House is seeking approval for 20,000 peacekeepers in the east, part of larger strategy for Russia, WSJ reported Thursday. The plan picks up where German Chancellor Angela Merkel left off when she floated a plan for peacekeepers to Russian President Vladimir Putin in September, the Journal writes. The White House’s pitch would call for peacekeepers to patrol the line connecting Ukraine troop-held territory from Russian-backed separatists near Donbass (called the ATO Zone, pictured here).

Writes Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment: 20,000 troops is a “very tall order.” Consider, for example, the the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina had 32,000 troops in 1996-97. Consider as well, there aren’t 20,000 troops in either Iraq or Afghanistan. So the jury’s still out on this presumed pitch for peace out of the White House.

Says one U.S. military official in Ukraine of the plan, speaking to The D Brief: “That’s a trap. We need to avoid that. We don’t want to legitimize any situation that lets Russian troops legally enter Ukraine under any arrangement.”

Noteworthy: U.S. officials told the Journal the White House has also “approved in principle” sending Ukraine lethal weapons like Javelin anti-tank missiles. However, “No decision has been taken on when such weapons could be provided.” Read on (paywall alert), here.

On Syria: The White House is working on a plan that “would focus on three elements,” AP reports — and please, don’t stop us if you’ve heard these before: It calls for “deconfliction” between the U.S. and Russian militaries, “reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating U.N.-led peace talks.”

What’s more, “The U.S.-Russia deal may also seek to expand the mandate of a joint “monitoring center” established this year in Amman, Jordan, to watch for cease-fire violations and other developments on the ground. It has focused on southwest Syria, where the cease-fire is in place, but could be used to monitor broader stretches of the country.” Read on, here.


From Defense One

Can Two Nuclear Powers Fight a Conventional War? // Marcus Weisgerber: The Pentagon just wargamed that scenario as part of its effort to determine what it needs for 21st-century deterrence.

The Global Business Brief, November 9 // Marcus Weisgerber: USAF’s Goldfein has 3 questions for the defense industry; missile defense spending to spike; readying for Dubai, and more.

2018 Defense Bill Compromise Boosts Military Pay Raise // Erich Wagner: Democrats vow a fight for civilian pay parity.

The Middle East Is Nearing an Explosion // Robert Malley: Fear is the one thing preventing it—but could also precipitate it.

Welcome to this 2017 Veterans Day eve edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free. And of course, happy 240th birthday to the United States Marine Corps.


The Saudis, Emiratis, and Kuwaitis have all ordered their citizens out of Lebanon, triggering a flurry of speculation about what lies ahead for the wider Middle East.
Making matters worse, Lebanon still wants to know where its (former?) prime minister is, and the U.S. State Department has a decent idea — not that it’s telling anyone publicly. Reuters: SecState Rex Tillerson said Thursday “there was no indication that Lebanon’s former prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will but that the United States was monitoring the situation.”
That came out of a very strange exchange between the State Department’s spokeswoman Heather Nauert: “Our chargé d’affaires, who’s serving in Saudi Arabia – his name is Chris Henzel – he met with Prime Minister Hariri yesterday, so had a chance to speak with him. I cannot provide you with a readout of that conversation or any specifics of it, but we have seen him.”
Nauert declined even to say where they met or whether Hariri is being detained — and referred questions to Saudi officials. Via Chris Sheridan of Al Jazeera English, here.

French President Macron made a surprise visit to Riyadh on Thursday, BBC reports. Franch has a bit of an historical interest in Lebanese affairs. But the future of Lebanon was just one of a number of topics Macron broached with the Saudis, which included Iran, possible Iranian-supplied missiles for the war in Yemen, and Hezbollah troops in and around Syria. More here.

New this morning: Hezbollah accuses Saudi Arabia of “asking Israel to strike Lebanon,” Agence France-Presse reports. Writes Middle East journalist Sulome Anderson, summarizing Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s remarks: “Nasrallah says Saudi Arabia is inciting Israel to attack Lebanon, but he doesn’t believe Israel will make that move right now, given the high cost of such a conflict. Notable departure from his usual fire and brimstone.”

USAF: Missile targeting Saudis was Iranian. Pieces of the missile fired from Yemen at the Saudi capital on Nov. 4 bore “Iranian markings,” according to Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who oversees the Air Force’s Central Command and who spoke to journalists in Dubai. AP: “Saudi Arabia long has accused Iran of supplying weapons to the Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, though Tehran has just as long denied supplying them.” That’s here.

Yemen war is dragging. Reuters: “More than two years into a war that has already left 10,000 dead, regional power Saudi Arabia is struggling to pull together an effective local military force to defeat the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that has seized large parts of Yemen.” Read on, here.
AP has its own look at the impasse, and its effect on the Middle East’s poorest country, here: “Unlike other regional conflicts in Syria or Libya, no side is winning, and peace talks are nonexistent. With both sides deeply committed to victory, face-saving exits are elusive, especially with the Saudi-Iranian rivalry heating up. The war, which has killed more than 10,000 civilians and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine, appears unlikely to end any time soon.”

Three cheers for one of Afghanistan’s local TV anchors. Just “minutes after” ISIS attacked a TV station in Kabul on Tuesday, anchor Parwiz Sapy — with bandages on his hands from the violence, which killed a policeman and wounded 24 others, “appeared calm and collected on Shamshad TV as he announced to viewers on Tuesday: ‘The attack has ended,’” Al-Jazeera reported. Said Sapy to his viewers: “We have all resumed our work, all our journalists are back on duty.” Read more from that scene, here.

Lasers on fighter jets in four years? The Air Force Research Laboratory has given Lockheed Martin $26.3 million to build a laser that can help a fighter jet defend itself from incoming threats — and demonstrate it in 2021. Military Times: “Industry has struggled for about a decade to make a laser small enough to be installed on a vehicle or aircraft that was also powerful enough to be relevant on a battlefield, Rob Afzal, Lockheed’s senior fellow of laser weapon systems, said during a Tuesday phone call with reporters. However, improvements in fiber laser technology are enabling the company to miniaturize more powerful systems.” More, here.

Finally this week, we’re getting closer and closer to an Iron Man suit in real life, at least one that actually allows you to fly. But there’s still a few tweaks that need to be made, Futurism reported this week.

The product: the Daedalus jet engine-powered body-controlled suit, from a company called Gravity. A man named Richard Browning runs the company — and he also tests its Daedalus suit, which just broke a world speed record by flying “51.53 km/h (32.02 mph) on his third attempt above the Lagoona Park in Reading, England.”

The moment didn’t last terribly long, however, Futurism writes. “Despite mistiming a turn and dropping into the lake a little while later, Browning still managed to set a new world record for fastest speed in a body-controlled jet engine power suit.” Browning had promised the suit could travel as fast as 200 mph “at several hundreds of meters above the ground.” We assume he’s got some work to do before hitting those marks (safely). Read on, here. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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