Kim-Xi talks, in review; Chinese naval show of force in the SCS; POTUS turns to the military for his border wall; ISIS leader killed in Afghanistan; And a bit more.

As if there was any doubt, North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un visited China’s capital on Monday, Chinese state media announced Tuesday evening — in a lengthy report (complete with four photos of standing and hand-shaking) on the first face-to-face exchange between the two leaders.

China’s Xi reportedly made four pitches to Kim, according to the Federation of American Scientists’ Adam Mount:

  • High-level exchanges,
  • Strategic communication,”
  • Peaceful development,” and
  • People-to-people exchanges.”

Not mentioned: sanctions or denuclearization, Mount noted, calling these developments “the most intriguing statement of DPRK-China relations in years. It hugely strengthens Kim’s hand for meetings with Moon and Trump. The US got outflanked here, and it’s more likely now that we face a coordinated DPRK-PRC position, or China letting up on pressure.”

The White House’s reax: “We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Tuesday evening in a statement.

The president was up this morning tweeting about the developments. His message to the world: “Received message last night from XI JINPING of China that his meeting with KIM JONG UN went very well and that KIM looks forward to his meeting with me. In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!”

For your eyes only: Photos from Monday over the South China Sea show “at least 40 [Chinese] ships and submarines flanking the carrier Liaoning in what some analysts described as an unusually large display of the Chinese military’s growing naval might.” Check out the imagery from Planet Labs, and explained by Reuters, here.


From Defense One

Mattis to Military: You Have Your Money. Spend It Wisely // Marcus Weisgerber: The defense secretary warns “results and accountability matter in every expenditure.”

Where’s the New Transgender Troops Ban Headed? Look at the Travel Ban Fight // Caroline Houck: Like Trump’s effort to bar visitors from several Mideast countries, a long legal battle awaits the newest limits on who can serve in uniform.

To Learn How to Protect America From Digital Threats, Look to Europe // Max Bergmann and Patrick Barry: European nations are charting the way, adopting whole-of-society methods for dealing with this new challenge.

Putin Finally Went Too Far // Mark Galeotti: The unified international response to the Skripal poisoning shows that the West will only suffer so much provocation.

In the Era of Fake News, VOA Is Fact-Checking Russia’s Messages // Charles S. Clark: The agency’s Polygraph.info is desk expanding its “disinformation news” coverage.

Trump’s ‘Good Relationship’ With Russia Is Slipping Away // Uri Friedman: By shuttering a consulate and expelling 60 diplomats in response to the spy poisoning in Britain, he’s taken a remarkably hard line against Putin.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. 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 1986, the U.S. Senate approved President Reagan’s request for $100 million in aid and weapons to the rebels, or “contras,” in Nicaragua. The Iran-Contra affair would not become a news story for another seven months.


You troops can handle this whole wall thing, right? President Trump now wants the military to pay for his border wall, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, calling his desire a privately-expressed one directed at his advisers.
The gist: “Trump has told advisers that he was spurned in a large spending bill last week when lawmakers appropriated only $1.6 billion for the border wall. He has suggested to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and congressional leaders that the Pentagon could fund the sprawling project, citing a ‘national security’ risk.” The president then reportedly pitched the idea to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisc. — who “offered little reaction to the idea,” the Post writes.
A glimpse into POTUS’s thinking. On Tuesday, he retweeted this tweet from Sunday: “Because of the $700 & $716 Billion Dollars gotten to rebuild our Military, many jobs are created and our Military is again rich. Building a great Border Wall, with drugs (poison) and enemy combatants pouring into our Country, is all about National Defense. Build WALL through M!” More from the Post, here.

A little more than 24 hours ago, U.S. and Afghan special operators killed an ISIS commander in a night raid somewhere in the north of the country, U.S. Special Operations Command announced this morning on Twitter. The story would seem to be developing, as there’s really no additional information available yet. But you can see the video SOCOM shared with the news — featuring a Chinook-loading, strong-pointing at dusk, and three explosions — all in night-vision green, here.

#LongRead: Yemen’s three-year civil war has “fractured its society, perhaps forever,” writes the Washington Post‘s Kareem Fahim, after traveling to Marib, Yemen — former al-Qaeda stronghold.
The impetus for this report: “A trip to Marib for journalists this month was organized by the Saudi military, which hoped to showcase what the Saudi government says are its effort to provide aid and financial assistance to Yemen. The trip was also intended to blunt a resilient criticism: that the Saudi-led military coalition backing Yemen’s government bears much of the responsibility for the humanitarian disaster because of its imposition of an air, sea and land blockade.”
What you’ll learn in this story: “In the midst of a war where soldiers haven’t moved positions in two years and cross to enemy territory to go home, there’s a professor teaching Orwell’s Animal Farm to his students, who are all too familiar with being repeatedly screwed by the political elite,” said Iona Craig, award-winning freelance journalist who has lived and worked in Yemen for years, after reading Fahim’s report.  

NATO’s reax to the alleged Russian poisoning in the UK. The alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said Tuesday that NATO would reduce the number of Russian officials accredited to the alliance by 10 (to 20 total) following what he called “the first use of a nerve agent on NATO territory.”
“This sends a clear message to Russia that there are costs and consequences for its unacceptable and dangerous pattern of behaviour,” Stoltenberg said in a statement. “Our actions reflect the serious security concerns expressed by all Allies, and are part of the coordinated international effort to respond to Russia’s behaviour. They are proportionate, and in line with our legal obligations.” More here.

The more you know: Turkey’s first nuclear power plant will be built by Russian state atomic energy corporation, Rosatom, Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News reported Tuesday.
Location: The Akkuyu district of the southern province of Mersin.
Cost: $20 billion. A bit more, here.  

High costs might prompt Air Force to cut F-35 buy. If the high costs of flying and maintaining the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter don’t drop, the U.S. Air Force might need to cut 590 jets from its planned buy of 1,763 aircraft, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports.
That projection was disclosed in an internal Air Force analysis that Capaccio obtained. “A chart in the Air Force analysis, which was completed in December, said the service has ‘very limited visibility into how’ increasing funds going to Lockheed for ‘contractor support’ are spent,” he writes. The Air Force says it “is working to gather visibility into cost data to better understand the rationale for the growth.” More here.

Poland finally signs for Patriot interceptors. The long, long-in-the-works deal finally appears to be happening as Poland signed what is a known as a letter of offer and acceptance, clearing the way for the approximately $5 billion sale of the missile interceptor systems. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, who make components of Patriot, each praised the deal in statements this morning. More here from Defense News.

We look above us now, to what could soon be some crowded skies. The $1.3 trillion omnibus budget passed last week by Congress includes $600 million for “the 11th and 12th satellite of the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation, manufactured by Boeing,” SpaceNews’ Sandra Erwin reported Tuesday.
This is seen as a problem to some in the satellite industry, Erwin writes, because commercial companies “have spent years trying to persuade the military to spend less money on building custom satellites and more on broadband services from the private sector.”
The stated thinking: “[L]awmakers justified the decision to add two WGS satellites as a necessary hedge as the Air Force transitions from legacy to future systems. As with many budget decisions, someone’s loss is always someone else’s gain.” That, here.

“More problems for one of the few Iraq and Afghanistan vets in Congress,” Military Times’ Leo Shane III wrote on Twitter Tuesday after reading this story from the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The veteran: Former Marine officer, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., “who is under federal criminal investigation for alleged personal use of campaign contributions” on things like “video game charges and family vacations to Italy.”
The new allegations: “A review of records that Hunter’s campaign filed with the Federal Election Commission between March 2008 and November 2017 shows at least 301 transactions totaling $138,666 at bars, cigar lounges, liquor stores, bar-dominant restaurants and similar businesses. Of those transactions, 247 charges totaling $123,786 were made at establishments in Washington, D.C.” Read the full story, here.

And finally today: Attempted mail-bomber caught. Authorities have arrested a Washington man who they say is responsible for mailing nearly a dozen explosive packages to DC-area military facilities, the Associated Press reported Tuesday from Seattle.
The man: Thanh Cong Phan, 43 years old, and he “was charged with one count of shipment of explosive materials in federal court in Seattle, where he made his initial appearance Tuesday.”
Beyond the bombs. “Each package contained what appeared to be a homemade explosive device in a small glass bottle with an unknown black power with a fuse, the complaint says. It also contained a typewritten letter with ‘ramblings about neuropsychology, mind control, and other subjects including terrorism.’”
How he was arrested: “[A] U.S. Postal Service inspector traced one of the packages [Phan sent] to a Mill Creek self-service kiosk,” just north of Seattle. “Authorities said surveillance photos appeared to show Phan at the kiosk and the postal inspector also determined that Phan paid for the package. Phan’s detention hearing is set for Friday. His motive was not immediately clear.” Read the rest, here.

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