Lots of talk about N.Korea; Mystery strike on Syria; When bomb-hunting robots become weapons; Tech firms battle to build Pentagon cloud; and just a bit more.
S. Korea: North’s Kim says he might abandon his nukes. New York Times: “The South Korean government said on Sunday that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had told President Moon Jae-in that he would abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States agreed to formally end the Korean War and promise not to invade his country.”
But: “But skeptics warned that North Korea previously made similar pledges of denuclearization on numerous occasions, with little or no intention of abiding by them. Mr. Kim’s friendly gestures, they said, could turn out to be nothing more than empty promises aimed at lifting sanctions on his isolated country.” Read on, here.
Mattis vows “ironclad commitment” to S. Korea defense. Over the weekend, President Trump and his defense secretary talked with their South Korea counterparts. Mattis vowed to uphold the “ironclad U.S. commitment” to defend its ally “using the full spectrum of U.S. capabilities. ”AP has more, here.
Meanwhile, Pompeo talks Korea on ABC. Here’s the State Department’s transcript of the April 28 interview.
And Bolton on CBS: “Trump’s Nat’l Sec Advisor John Bolton says WH is looking at a ‘Libya Model’ for North Korea. Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi agreed to abandon his nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief in the early 2000s. Within years, Gadhafi was overthrown and killed by US-backed rebels.” That capsule story-and-context from CNN’s Will Ripley after Bolton appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Sticking to his guns. It’s hardly the first time Bolton has said as much. (In March, writers for National Review and The American Conservative both did their best to dissuade him, the latter blasting “Bolton’s Ridiculous Libya ‘Model’ for North Korea.”)
Making sense of mixed signals. Writes the NYT’s Max Fisher: “But if Libya offers one lesson in American inconstancy, Trump’s hostility to the Iran deal suggests another: “By pledging to break one nuclear deal just as he enters negotiations for another, Mr. Trump risks sending the message that American promises are empty, giving adversaries little reason to make concessions. By punishing Iran even after it has frozen its nuclear program but agreeing to meet with the leader of North Korea just months after it achieved many of its nuclear ambitions, Mr. Trump could inadvertently convey the message that rogue states are best served by defying and threatening the United States.
Censorship watch. Curious about what N. Korean TV showed Friday as the rest of the world watched the two leaders meet? Here’s a rundown (via Twitter).
From Defense One
The Deceptively Simple Promise of Korean Peace // Uri Friedman: It might have to start with something like the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe treaty concluded at the end of the Cold War.
What Happens When Your Bomb-Defusing Robot Becomes a Weapon // Caroline Lester: Treating a technology as a "platform" has consequences.
Trump's New Arms-Sales Policy Is Good but Sounds Awful // Bilal Y. Saab: We must reintegrate arms exports into the U.S. foreign-policy process — and do a far better job of explaining why than the Trump administration has managed so far.
How a Pentagon Contract Sparked a Cloud War // Frank Konkel: Amazon and Google are taking on defense contractors in a heated battle for billions in government contracts.
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Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD1961: The Soviet Union commissions its first nuclear-missile submarine.
Two bomb blasts in Kabul killed more than two-dozen people this morning, “including nine journalists who had arrived to report on the first explosion and were apparently targeted by a suicide bomber,” Reuters reports from the Afghan capital. The attacks were claimed by ISIS.
Elsewhere, just a short while later, “a suicide bomber in a vehicle attacked a foreign military convoy in the southern province of Kandahar, killing 11 children studying in a nearby religious school.” More, here.
Someone’s rockets (Israel again?) appear to have hit Syrian military bases on Sunday, the Syrian army said Sunday (Reuters) after initial reports and video began popping up on social media.
Locations hit reportedly spanned “the Hama and Aleppo countryside” and included “an army base known as Brigade 47 near Hama city, widely known as a recruitment centre for Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias who fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces,” Reuters reports, citing an “opposition source.”
A separate unnamed “intelligence source” told Reuters “it appeared that multiple missile strikes hit several command centres for Iranian-backed militias and there were dozens of injuries and deaths.”
During the same time, a “Small seismic event approximately measuring 2.6 on Richter [scale] east of Hama” occurred Sunday, too. Middle East analyst John Arterbury noted on Twitter that evening (European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre link, here), adding the explosion was quite “possibly related to tonight's explosions.” This video, in particular, would seem to suggest a link.
In regional diplomacy on Friday, Turkey changed its tune on the contested Syrian city of Manbij after seeing America’s new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Reuters reported.
The old tune: Turkey and its allied Syrian rebels will retake Manbij from the Kurd-supporting U.S. and their allied forces.
The new tune: “Turkey will take steps together with the United States” on Manbij’s near-future, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Leverage for anti-missile negotiations? “Cavusoglu also said there was no French presence in Manbij and added Turkey could evaluate ‘good offers’ for Patriot missiles or other air defense systems from allies,” Reuters reports from that exchange. Read the rest, here.
From the region: A report on the Islamic State group’s suicide car bomb “innovation and inter-provincial military cooperation,” from 24-year-old Swedish open-source investigator Huga Kaman.
The worrisome takeaway: “[T]his goes beyond IS. Any militant group in the future with enough resources and an ideology that allows for suicide bombings can take a quick look at what IS have used and simply pick up where they left off.” He’s been watching this stuff for a while, and you can tell in his #LongRead analysis, here.
For your eyes only: Syrian war refugees have now inspired a video game, the BBC reported this weekend in a one-minute video (called “Bury me, my love”) that begins, here.
Also in foreign policy-related video games, “A new interactive story game from ProPublica highlights the plight of asylum-seekers by pitting players against a formidable foe: a dull, dreary existence punctuated by inexorable sadness,” The Next Web reported last week of an experience ProPublica calls “The Waiting Game.”
The gist: “The word ‘game’ might be misleading,” TNW writes. “In the manner of a choose-your-own adventure novel, you click through the character’s story to learn what happens to the person whose story you selected. The player, for lack of a better term, really only has two choices: plow ahead, or give up.” Read on, here.
Qatari officials appear to have paid "at least $275 million to free nine members of the royal family and 16 other Qatari nationals kidnapped during a hunting trip in southern Iraq" last April, the Washington Post reported this weekend.
Their source: Text messages that “are part of a trove of private communications about the hostage ordeal that were surreptitiously recorded by a foreign government and provided to The Post.”
Big money. “The total sum demanded for the return of the hostages at times climbed as high as $1 billion, although it is not clear from the documents exactly how much money ultimately changed hands.”
The big concern: “The payments were part of a larger deal that would involve the Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish governments as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and at least two Syrian opposition groups, including al-Nusra Front, the notorious Sunni rebel faction linked to al-Qaeda.” More to that story, here.
How ISIS works the Lake Chad basin. The terrorist group’s affiliate in West Africa is “Digging wells, giving out seeds and fertilizer and providing safe pasture for herders,” the Associated Press reported this weekend from Nigeria. Lots of interesting contrasts with ISWA and Boko Haram — the latter is a bit more barbaric, relatively speaking — here.
In case you were curious "What exactly are foreign troops protecting in the Sahel,” the Institute for Security Studies has an explainer for you.
The short read: “Mali and Niger, at the crossroads of regional instability, have also become epicentres of Western power security dynamics in the Sahel. Despite using similar security rhetoric to justify their presence, Western powers seem to have different agendas.” Worth the click, here.
A former BP chief executive was reportedly “poisoned in [a] Russian plot,” The Sydney Morning Herald reports this morning from London. “Bob Dudley, the US head of the British oil giant, had to flee Moscow after blood test results indicated he was being poisoned slowly,” he told SMH.
For the record, “BP has declined to comment about the allegation and refuses to say whether Dudley was or was not subjected to a poison attack.” Story, here.
Good idea, or the greatest idea? Russia is sending a “floating nuclear power plant” out to sea, AP reported Sunday from St. Petersburg. “The floating plant, the Akademik Lomonosov, was towed on Saturday out of the St. Petersburg shipyard" and headed for "the Baltic Sea and around the northern tip of Norway to Murmansk in northwest Russia, where the nuclear reactors are to be fueled."
The plan: Put it "into service in 2019 in the Arctic off the coast of Chukotka in the far east, providing power for a port town and for oil rigs." A bit more on the facility some have taken to calling a “floating Chernobyl,” here.
And finally today: The U.S. Marine Corps has a new recruiting video, and this time there are noticeably fewer dragons. Some took issue with what replaced the dragons — in this case, it was footage of combat in Iraq and Syria — while others said, essentially, “boo, hoo — get over it.” Watch the 60-second video for yourself, here.
NEXT STORY: The Deceptively Simple Promise of Korean Peace