Poison attack in UK, again; NATO members yawn at Trump; 60,000 flee Syria for Jordan; Pompeo to Pyongyang; And a bit more.

NATO members pushed back against Trump’s gripe they spend too little on their militaries, the Associated Press reported Wednesday ahead of next week’s NATO Summit in Brussels.

  • German reax: “We don’t want to impress anyone... we stand by the 2 percent goal we’ve set.” (Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen)
  • Belgian reax: “I am not too intimidated by this type of mail.” (Prime Minister Charles Michel)
  • Norwegian reax: “Norway stands by its decision of the NATO Summit in 2014 and is following up on this.” (Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reminds you (or Trump) the 2014 members’ pledge to devote 2 percent of GDP to defense spending is not a law: “This document is not a legal document. It is a political document with a political commitment.” Read on, here.

The Mattis letter to the British: Read a copy of the letter Trump’s Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent to his UK counterpart (here). In it, Reuters Idris Ali notes, Mattis told Britain, “which already meets the NATO goal of 2 percent, [that it] should increase [its] defense spending.”

Another suspicious poison attack in the UK— this time seven miles from the Skripal episode in Salisbury back in March, UK authorities announced Wednesday from Amesbury (five miles from Stonehenge).

There, authorities found two Britons “unconscious at separate times in the same home on Saturday.” Police initially suspected they’d walked in on the aftermath of a drug overdose. But, NBC News reports, “after observing their symptoms ─ police didn't describe them ─ authorities took samples for lab testing. Those tests came back positive for Novichok,” the same nerve agent used in the Skripal attacks. Authorities are still canvassing the area for clues. Continue reading, here.

London Calling: POTUS goes to the UK next week, too. There, Reuters reports, “Prime Minister Theresa May will have to face a harsh reality: Brexit makes Britain more dependent than ever on an alliance with the most unpredictable U.S. president in living memory.”

As for the timing — after the NATO summit, but before Trump’s face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki — Reuters writes the UK visit will happen at “one of the most important junctures for Europe and the West since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.” Read on for more, here.

Other VIP travel: SecState Pompeo heads to Pyongyang today, his third trip to North Korea this year and first overnight stay in the country, Reuters reports.

The forecast from those talks: Trump and Pompeo have “softened” the U.S. goal of “denuclearizing” North Korea “following talks on Sunday between U.S. envoy Sung Kim and North Korean counterparts” laying the groundwork for Pompeo’s visit.

Apparently gone from the U.S. State Department lexicon: “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”

In its place (reportedly on South Korea's advice): “the final, fully verified denuclearization of (North Korea) as agreed to by Chairman Kim.” More here.

Apropos of nothing: Here’s the view from deep inside a Scottish nuclear bunker — this one in St. Andrews selling ice cream and coffee.

From Defense One

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Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief  by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.

The Assad regime’s offensive into Syria’s southwest is pushing closer to Jordan’s border, where more than 60,000 refugees are stranded this morning after fleeing the fight on the city of Daraa, where rebels surrendered. The total displaced from that offensive alone stands at 320,000 the UN says this morning. And it appears to be getting worse.
The short read: "Assad aims to recapture the entire southwest including the frontiers with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan,” Reuters reports. “The area is one of the last rebel strongholds in Syria after more than seven years of war."
Where the rebellion against Assad stands: “[L]osing the southwest will reduce their territory to a region of the northwest bordering Turkey and a patch of desert in the east where U.S. forces are stationed near the border with Iraq and Jordan.”
FWIW: Jordan tried to broker talks between rebels and the Russians in Syria, but those talks collapsed on Wednesday. And so airstrikes picked back up today — some 600 air strikes in 15 hours.
Also involved in this offensive: Hezbollah, but with a lower profile than years past (since Israel has been a bit more active in recent months). A bit more to that, here.

The U.S. has a new firebase in Iraq near the Syrian border to continue the ISIS war, NPR’s Jane Arraf reported on location Monday. That comes in at just under four minutes, and you can find that here.

Get to better know the insurgent situation in Tripoli, Libya, in a new report from the folks at Small Arms Survey and “based on 55 interviews with leaders of armed groups, government officials, and local observers in Tripoli and Misrata, which were undertaken during March and April 2018.”
The gist: "Over the past two years, the large Tripolitanian militias have transformed into criminal networks straddling politics, big business, and the administration. They have infiltrated the bureaucracy and are increasingly able to coordinate their actions across different state institutions. The government is powerless in the face of militia influence... UN and Western policies have contributed to the current situation in Tripoli. They encouraged the GNA’s Presidency Council (PC) to move to Tripoli under the protection of the militias, then tacitly supported the expansion of these militias.”
There are a few ways forward; but in an uncertain place like Libya, none are very predictable beyond a very short window. Maps, charts, cautious advice and more, (PDF) here.  
One more image from Libya: A Jordanian-made armored vehicle, which IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly’s Jeremy Binnie notes is “in service with the Libyan National Army.”

ICYMI: The U.S. Army lowered its recruiting goal for the year by 3,500 soldiers. Why? More money for bonuses, and convincing troops to stay in uniform, Ohio’s Dayton Daily News reports in the current Summer “peak recruitment season.”
For some perspective: “Last year, the Army paid $424 million in bonuses, up from $284 million in 2016 and a mere $8.2 million in 2014.” More here.

POTUS to troops on July 4th: "Thank you for keeping America safe, strong, proud, mighty and free.” AP has a tiny bit more from the South Lawn of the White House, here.
Notable: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was unable to make his traditional July 4 overseas visit with deployed U.S. troops in war zones, so he posted a message urging Americans to keep those troops in their thoughts. “One of the greatest privileges of my life has been marking Independence Day with America's service members and diplomats selflessly serving overseas. ... It is because of their sacrifice that our country remains a beacon of hope to all people held captive by oppression, violence and injustice. Today and every day, let us show our gratitude….”
Meanwhile in San Diego: “49 military personnel and family members take citizenship oath on USS Midway.” The Union-Tribune has more on the new citizens from 19 different countries, here.

The more you know: Air Force One edition (via historian Michael Beschloss). In 1962, President John F. Kennedy chose the font for “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” on the fuselage of Air Force One. The reason: the font resembled the early printed version of the Declaration of Independence.

And finally today: Meet a very talented U.S. Army veteran who lost both arms in Iraq — and who has since gone on to discover a profitable talent for painting. Peter Damon cranks out 30 paintings or so a year from Massachusetts, and CBS News sat down with him in a piece you can read or watch, here.