Breakthrough talks in Korea; US classifies more missile-test data; F-35Bs deploy aboard ship; B-21 bomber to test in ‘near future’; and just a bit more…

North Korea is ready to talk denuclearization — even as Seoul says it will bolster its military defenses. That’s the message from South Korean officials after departing a rare two-day meeting (photos beforehand here) with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on Monday in Pyongyang.  

About the denuclearization: The offer was just Point No. 3 in a surprising six-part agreement reached Monday in the first official meeting between the two countries’ leaders since 2007, Reuters reports.  

Critical caveat: “If the statement is corroborated by North Korea,” the New York Times writes, “it would be the first time Mr. Kim has clarified that his government is willing to discuss giving up nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the United States. Until now, North Korea has said its nuclear weapons were not for bargaining away.”

The agreement includes:

  1. Plans for an inter-Korean summit at the end of April in Panmunjeom, a village just north of the two countries’ shared border;
  2. The creation of a “hotline” linking South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-Un to reduce tensions;
  3. North Korea illustrating an interest in denuclearizing, saying there’s no reason to have nuclear weapons if DPRK’s security can be guaranteed in upcoming talks with Washington;
  4. During U.S.-North Korean talks, North Korea won’t conduct missile or nuke tests;
  5. North Korea agrees not to use nuclear or conventional weapons against South Korea.
  6. North Korea invited RoK’s taekwondo team and art troupe to Pyongyang as a gesture of reconciliation and cooperation after the Winter Olympics.

Noteworthy: U.S.-ROK joint military exercises are to proceed in April as planned.

From RoK’s perspective, President Moon’s National Security Adviser, Chung Eui-yong, called Kim “unexpectedly flexible” in the talks, the Times reports. What’s more, “Mr. Chung said the South Koreans believed that their agreements with North Korea would be enough to start a dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. He also said he was carrying additional messages from Mr. Kim to the Trump administration that he could not reveal.”

One quite surprising thing, from another RoK official’s perspective: “What drew our attention, in particular, is that [Kim Jong-Un] made clear that achieving denuclearization is his father’s dying wish and that it has not been changed at all. Kim also didn’t specify anything special from South Korea or other countries in return for the North coming to dialogue but expressed an intent to be treated seriously as a counterpart for talks.” That via RoK’s Yonhap News agency, here.

POTUS’s reaction this morning on Twitter: “We will see what happens!” Then an hour later, he added, “Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”

The short take on all this: This is “North Korea stepping on the peace offensive gas… [the] Ball [is] now in Washington’s court” said Duyeon Kim of the Korean Peninsula’s Future Forum. Her prediction: “Inter-Korean activities will begin to pick up speed — is Washington ready? Many dubious points but still provides some room to work with. But does Washington have a negotiation plan/strategy?”

But let’s go back to Seoul boosting its military. There wasn’t much substance to the statement, but like most of what’s come out of that Monday meeting, it would seem the messaging is what’s most important. To that end, here’s what President Moon had to say about it, according to CNN: “We have started our journey for peace and prosperity with confidence that we can build denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula with our own strength. But at the same time, we have to do our best to build countermeasure capability for North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles.”

The pessimist’s take: “North Korea flips the belligerent/amicable coin, as it has been doing for decades, and the West swoons when it sees the shinier half,” wrote Korea policy analyst Devon Rowcliff this morning on Twitter. “Truly amazing how such a small state is able to manipulate so many of the world’s superpowers with the same routine.”

Could the U.S. lose Seoul as an ally in this framework? The question emerges when one considers this angle: “DPRK isn’t going to give up its nukes for a lollipop,” said MIT’s Vipin Narang. “It means the end of the alliance and the removal of US forces from the peninsula. At least. So an opening, but not euphoria.”

Get smart: Here’s how U.S.-North Korean crises typically end, The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman reported in February, tracing the history of tense moments going back to 1968 and up to the present.

Unrelated, or maybe not. “The Defense Department is now classifying previously unclassified information about upcoming missile defense system tests,” Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists noticed Monday. What’s changed? “Information about pending missile defense flight tests, their objectives, and their timing had previously been included in each year’s budget request documents. But that is no longer the case, and such information was withheld from the FY 2019 Missile Defense Agency RDT&E budget book that was published last month.” Read on, here.  


From Defense One

Lockheed: Pentagon Negotiators Are Becoming More Unpredictable // Marcus Weisgerber: The company’s CFO says willingness to discard precedent has stalled a new deal for the F-35 — and even affected the C-130.

Expect North Korea to Add Nuclear Coercion to Its Provocation Playbook // From the Council on Foreign Relations’ Patrick McEachern: Kim’s nuclear arsenal is built to “deter and coerce.” We’re probably going to find out soon what forms the latter will take.

On Offer: An Integrated Dashboard for Cyber Warfare // Patrick Tucker: Lockheed previews its response to a Pentagon quest for a tool to coordinate cyber effects in the land, air, sea and space domains.

Russia’s Favorite Syrian Warlord // The Atlantic’s Sam Dagher: Brigadier General Suheil al-Hassan has won over Putin and played a central role in the assault on eastern Ghouta.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day in 2003, President Bush held a rare evening news conference to announce he was prepared to go to war in Iraq whether or not the UN approved. The war in Iraq would officially begin just 15 days later.


The U.S. military has paused its war against ISIS in Eastern Syria, Pentagon spokesman, Col. Rob Manning, told reporters Monday.
The (predictable) reason: “U.S.-backed Kurdish soldiers have shifted to a separate fight against Turkish forces,” Military.com reported. However, some airstrikes against the group inside Syria — Abu Kamal, e.g. — are ongoing. A tiny bit more here.

The White House threatened new military action against the Assad regime in Syria, the Washington Post reported Monday. The talks reportedly took place early last week and involved Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The gist: “President Trump requested options for punishing the Assad government after reported chlorine gas attacks — at least seven this year — and possibly other chemicals affecting civilians in opposition-controlled areas.”
In support of the idea: McMaster.
Against the idea: Mattis. That, anyway, is what a nameless “senior administration official” told the Post.
Where things stand presently: “the president did not endorse any military action and that officials decided to continue monitoring the situation.” Full story, here.

Russia says it has offered safe passage for rebels in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus, but rebels “swiftly rejected” it, CNN reports.

A Russian cargo jet crashed in Syria today, killing all 32 on board when it attempted to land about 150 miles north of Damascus, Moscow’s defense ministry announced this morning. “The Russian military said an An-26, with 26 passengers and six crew members onboard, crashed just 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the runway.” AP reports from Moscow. The cause of the crash is so far being blamed on a “technical error.” Little further from that developing story, but you can read on, here.

Britain suspects Russia was involved with a new poisoning attack of a former Russian spy in the UK, the Associated Press reports from Salisbury, England. Read a bit more about the now-ill former spook, Sergei Skripal, at the BBC, here.

Video purporting to show Green Berets in October’s deadly firefight in Niger began circulating more widely online this week. One site hosting the video was SOFREP.com, which was promptly slammed by special operators demanding to know why.
So SOFREP’s editors wrote a note explaining their decision: “The ambush in Niger has also been subject to myths, rumors, and propaganda as were events in Jordan and Benghazi. The helmet cam footage is a piece of hard evidence, one which depicts factual events… The footage of the Niger ambush is not easy to watch. That said, this has been the reality of our soldiers for the last 16 years. America has been sheltered from addressing that reality for far too long. The job of news outlets like SOFREP is to remind the public every single day that we are at war — that we have troops in combat as we speak.” Read on, here.

The Air Force’s new B-21 heavy bomber is headed to SoCal’s Edwards Air Force Base, The Drive reported Monday after reading a recent headline in the Antelope Valley Press (paywalled).
The news was delivered by Brig. Gen. Carl Schaefer, who told a crowd on March 3, “For the first time ever, I would like to publicly announce that the B-21 will be tested at Edwards Air Force Base… Edwards has been the home of bomber test and now we also can publicly release that the B-21 is coming to Edwards and we will be testing it here in the near future.” Read more about why “testing is likely to continue at the base for decades following the jet’s initial entry into service,” here.

And finally today: A new first for the U.S. military. F-35Bs deployed on the USS Wasp in the 7th Fleet area of operations (the Pacific). Details and photos via the U.S. Navy, here.

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