UN’s climate focus; Trump to meet Ukraine counterpart; More troops to Mideast; Taliban talk to China; And a bit more.

Climate change will be a focus today as the three-day UN General Assembly kicks off in New York City. The annual meeting follows a weekend of activism that drew millions of participants into the streets of cities around the world. Those actions continued this morning in D.C. as activists shut down intersections during the Monday commute in a bid to draw policymakers’ attention. 

Today’s session won’t be an ambitious one with new agreements expected. “Instead, more than 60 countries, as well as business leaders and other government officials, are set to outline the measures they are taking to combat climate change,” including “phasing out coal and becoming carbon neutral by midcentury,” the Wall Street Journal reports. And President Trump is not expected to attend that climate session, the Associated Press reports.

France, host of the 2015 Paris climate accord, is most focused on U.S.-Iran tensions, said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (Reuters) on Sunday. “The meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani is not the No.1 subject. The priority subject is whether we can restart a de-escalation path with the different actors,” he said to reporters.

Trump’s new UN ambassador debuts today. Kelly Craft’s GOP donations won her a job as the U.S. ambassador to Canada, where the foreign-policy neophyte’s two-year tenure was marked by trips that took her away from Ottawa for about half of it. However, defenders tell the Washington Post “She did a tremendous amount of studying before she left here to acquaint herself with the various subjects she will face in New York.” More, here.

Tomorrow is Trump’s big day. He’s scheduled to address the entire UNGA just as he’d done two years ago when he called North Korea’s Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man,” and last year when, AP writes, “he drew laughter when he used his speech to recite his administration’s accomplishments.” 

The theme of Trump’s speech this year: “reassert[ing] America’s determination to uphold its sovereignty and independence, especially on issues of national security.” But at this year’s UNGA, there will reportedly be no Chinese or Russian presidents in attendance. Otherwise, “the nations whose leaders Trump plans to meet in New York [include] Iraq, Poland, Egypt, Pakistan, South Korea and Japan,” as well as embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

President Trump is due to meet Ukraine’s new president on Wednesday, a meeting that now has taken on enormous significance in the wake of allegations Trump “urged his Ukrainian counterpart in a July phone call to investigate the activities of the son of former Vice President Joe Biden,” AP writes. And he didn’t do that just once; the Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Trump pressured Kyiv’s president eight times. “That pressure is the subject of a whistleblower’s complaint that the administration has refused to turn over to members of Congress,” AP reports. 

Warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter (Washington Post) to her House colleagues on Sunday: “If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”

Said Rep. Adam Schiff, D.-Calif., to CNN on Sunday: “I have been very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment… But if the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that that conduct represents.”

Said Trump of the allegations this weekend: “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”

Said Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney on Twitter this weekend: “If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out.” 

Added Sen. Pat Toomey R.-Pa., to NBC this weekend: It is “not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country. But I don’t know that’s what happened here.” Not many other GOP-ers seem to be speaking out much at all about this Ukrainian phone call development, which some have taken to calling “Ukraine-gate.” 

Next in the saga: Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is expected “to appear this week before both the Senate and House intelligence committees, where he will be asked about his decision not to share the complaint,” WSJ reports. More from Just Security, here

The U.S. military dispatched more air defense systems to the Middle East on Friday, a deployment U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday told Fox News is all about “deterrence and defense” and “avoiding war” against Iranian aggression in the region. 

How many? Unclear precisely, as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford called this a “moderate” deployment, with the troop total “not [in the thousands.” 

“All indications are than Iran was responsible,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday afternoon of the September 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s refinery that prompted escalated international attention and fears of wider regional conflict. And so, Esper said to reporters at the Pentagon, “We’re calling on many other countries to do two things: Stand up and condemn these attacks and also contribute defensive capabilities so we can defend…the infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the broader issues with regard to freedom of the seas and navigation of the Strait [of Hormuz], and the international rules and norms that Iran is clearly violating.” More on all that from Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams and Marcus Weisgerber, here


From Defense One

Imagine If Obama Had Done This // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: Republicans have tolerated plenty of foreign-policy moves by Trump that they would never have let his predecessor get away with. Will that continue with Iran?

Time to Harden International Norms on Armed Drones // Wim Zwijnenburg: Progress on widely accepted rules has been as slow as the technological advancement has been fast.

Trump Approves ‘Defensive’ Deployment to Middle East // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: The U.S. will increase air and missile defenses from Iran at the request of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Pentagon leaders said.

US Navy’s Drone Tanker Prototype Takes First Flight // Marcus Weisgerber: Now service officials hope they can get the MQ-25 operating faster than planned.

DHS’s New Counterterrorism Strategy Reflects Professionalism, Not Politics // Joshua A. Geltzer and Christopher P. Costa: The counterterrorism experts who oversaw the Obama-Trump policy transition applaud the new strategy’s bold approach to domestic terrorism and guns.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1561, Spanish King Philip II ordered a halt to his country’s efforts at colonizing what his countrymen referred to as La Florida (“the land of flowers”) and what we call today the “Sunshine State.” The following year, the French would respond to Philip’s decree by colonizing a part of Parris Island, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. — the latter of which would be captured by Philip’s forces in 1565 in order to protect the first Spanish (and European) colony in the New World, St. Augustine. 


The Taliban dropped by China on Sunday to chat about U.S. peace talks with China’s own special representative for Afghanistan, Deng Xijun, Reuters reports from Beijing. A nine-member delegation from the Taliban made the trip, and all we have learned from the discussions is that Chinese officials reportedly think the latest U.S.-Taliban deal is “a good framework for the peaceful solution of the Afghan issue and they support it,” according to Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. 
Apparent tragedy in Helmand. Afghan government forces raided a Taliban facility Sunday night and wound up killing at least 35 civilians and wounding 13 others who were attending a wedding nearby, Reuters reports from Helmand province’s Musa Qala district, where the attack occurred. 
Where those numbers (35 and 13) come from: Attaullah Afghan, a member of the Helmand provincial council member.
For the record (so far), “A senior U.S. defense official in Afghanistan said the operation was aimed against al Qaeda fighters but did not give any details about civilian casualties.”
Reminder: A U.S. drone strike reportedly killed 30 civilians and wounded another 40 in eastern Afghanistan Wednesday night. Reuters has the fallout on that apparent U.S. attack on alleged ISIS fighters in Nangarhar province, here

Developing for Syria: The UN’s chief just announced “the formation of a constitutional committee for Syria, a long-awaited step in a stalled peace process,” Reuters reports from NYC. Very tiny bit more, here.
Also in Syria today: Turkish F-16s conducted a two-hour overflight mission over SDF territory, in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition, the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister reports on Twitter, calling this “the most encouraging sign of progress on the ‘safe zone’ deal we’ve seen so far - by some margin.” 
And about that UN plan, Lister cautions, “If you thought forming the committee was the hard bit (it’s taken ~2yrs), watch the process of negotiation, drafting… and implementation.” More from his Syria-watching Twitter feed, here

Russia is trying to formally “modernize” the military in the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, Reuters reports from Moscow. Quick reminder: “Russia is one of only a handful of countries to recognize Abkhazia’s independence, something it decided to do in 2008 after it won a short war against Georgia over the fate of another Georgian breakaway region.” Tiny bit more here.

And finally today: a Pentagon media site apologized for suggesting that millennials who tried to crash Area 51 would be killed by B-2 bombers. In a Friday tweet (since deleted, but of course it lives on in screenshots), whoever runs the DVIDSHub twitter account thought it was a good idea to post a photo of a B-2 and its associated air and ground crew under the text: “The last thing #Millennials will see if they attempt the #area51raid today.” 
An apology was posted 18 hours later: “It was inappropriate and we apologize for this mistake.”
As for the raid itself? About 40 people showed up for an event that had sparked a thousand memes. Authorities arrested one person, and not for attempted unauthorized access.

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