Iran may restart centrifuges; Next CNO withdraws; US asks for German help in Syria; UAE’s Yemen shift; And a bit more.
Iran is threatening to restart deactivated centrifuges, 14 months after the White House withdrew from a deal to freeze Tehran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. “The threats, made by the spokesman for Tehran’s nuclear agency, would go far beyond the small steps Iran has taken in the past week to nudge its stocks of fissile material just beyond limits in the nuclear pact,” Reuters writes.
What’s new here: Iran has begun “enriching uranium at 4.5% on Monday, according to state media, above the 3.67% purity allowed under the deal,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “The move inches Iran along a path that could allow it to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon over the next year. It also raises the odds that European parties to the pact will trigger a dispute procedure in the accord that could end with international sanctions being reimposed on Tehran.”
What this means, according to the Associated Press: “While Iran’s recent measures to increase enrichment and break its low-enriched uranium stockpile limit could be easily reversed, Europe has struggled to respond, even after getting a 60-day warning that the increase was coming.”
Said President Trump on Sunday: “Iran better be careful… Iran is doing a lot of bad things,” he said. “The way they want it they would have automatic rights to have nuclear weapons. Iran will never have a nuclear weapon."
For what it’s worth, ordinary Iranians are bracing for an extended crisis as “prices for basic goods have skyrocketed” and Iran’s economy is “expected to shrink for the second consecutive year and inflation could reach 40 percent," Reuters reports.
Meantime, Iran’s foreign ministry accused Britain of “piracy, pure and simple” today after British authorities seized an oil tanker in Gibraltar last week. According to Reuters, “British Royal Marines impounded the tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Iran denies the vessel was headed to Syria.” Here’s a public statement on the seizure from the Gibraltar government.
Iran’s next move could include “another, third step away from the deal within 60 days but has so far held back from formally announcing what it plans,” Reuters writes. Those next moves could involve “enriching uranium to 20% purity or beyond, and restarting IR-2 M centrifuges that were dismantled as one of the deal’s core aims… Enriching uranium up to 20% purity would be a dramatic move, since that was the level Iran had achieved before the deal was put in place, although back then it had a far larger stockpile than it is likely to be able to rebuild in the short term.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
UK Defense Secretary: We Need a Stronger NATO Now More Than Ever // Penny Mordaunt: Penny Mordaunt recaps June’s NATO ministerial and looks ahead to the December NATO Summit in London.
Podcast: Mosul, revisited (part two) with Mike Giglio and Dan Gabriel // Defense One Staff: We continue our remembrance of the Iraqi and coalition forces pushing the Islamic State group out of Mosul two years ago this week.
Why Won't Europe Take Back ISIS Fighters from Syria for Trial? // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: Italy took one. Hundreds more languish while governments slowly decide what to do next.
Army Corps of Engineers and GSA Faulted for Costly Contract Changes // Charles S. Clark, Excellence in Government: Agencies aren’t tracking company timeframes in monitoring $36 billion in construction spending, watchdog finds.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber already, you can do that here. A hearty congrats today to the U.S. Women’s national soccer team for its 2-0 World Cup victory Sunday over the Netherlands in France, making them just the second women’s team (after Germany) to win consecutive titles.
On this day in 1994, North Korea’s first president, Kim Jong-il, died of a sudden heart attack. His country conducted no missile tests that year, coming off a year in which it carried out four. Track Pyongyang’s missile program throughout history, via Shea Cotton and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, here.
The U.S. wants German troops in Syria to help ease the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the country and to keep up support for Kurdish forces still fighting ISIS inside Syria. That’s according to Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency, writing off an interview with U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement Ambassador James Jeffrey on Sunday.
"We want ground troops from Germany to partially replace our soldiers," Jeffrey said. "It is better to force IS back with local Syrian forces. But a certain international presence is needed to secure air support, for logistics, training, and technical help."
It’s unclear just yet what Germany will decide. However, “Johann Wadephul, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has called for Berlin to consider Jeffrey's request.”
Jeffrey hinted at this request in late June, when he told Defense One: “The drawdown [of U.S. troops from Syria] is continuing… Our expectation is the slack will be taken up by coalition forces — and we are getting a very encouraging response from them — and that we will continue to maintain our critically important air control and air operations over Northeast Syria, we will continue our ground presence at al-Tanf, and we will be ready to introduce forces to go after specific terrorist targets.”
One of two different Afghan peace talks are happening today in Doha, Qatar, Reuters reports. Attending this one: The Taliban and “wary representatives of Afghan society” — a "60-member delegation of Afghan representatives," which "includes government officials, [but who] are not there in their official capacity."
Expectations are slim, Reuters writes, since “The talks, facilitated by Germany and Qatar, have touched on how Afghanistan might be organized but no conclusions have been reached.”
Making matters ever more delicate: The Taliban on Sunday “detonated a car bomb outside a government security compound in central Afghanistan[‘s Ghazni province,] killing 14 people and wounding 180, including scores of children.”
One of the targets included “a national intelligence compound,” the Washington Post reported from Kabul. “Intelligence officials said two of its employees were dead and 80 others wounded.” And that new violence “came one day after the top U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, told journalists that the new round of negotiations that began Thursday in Doha, where the Taliban’s political office is located, had been ‘the most productive’ session since such talks began in September.”
Reminder of the “major issues” at play with Khalilzad’s talks, according to Khalilzad:
- “a timetable for withdrawing U.S. and NATO forces;”
- “a Taliban guarantee to prevent international terrorist groups from operating in Afghanistan;”
- “a permanent cease-fire;”
- “and direct negotiations with Afghan officials,” WaPo writes. A bit more on that process, here.
UAE’s Yemen shift continues. In case you missed the message last week, the UAE is reminding us all this week that it is moving from a “military” strategy to a “peace” strategy in the war-torn country of Yemen, AFP reports this morning.
A nameless Emirati official told reporters today, "We do have troop levels that are down for reasons that are strategic in (the Red Sea city of) Hodeida and reasons that are tactical... It is very much to do with moving from what I would call a military first strategy to a peace first strategy, and this is I think what we are doing."
Next CNO withdraws from job. Adm. Bill Moran, who was slated to become the 32nd Chief of Naval Operations next month, has withdrawn from the job and will retire instead, several news organizations reported Sunday night.
Moran stepped down amid inquiries into emails he exchanged with a naval officer who had been fired after a 2016 office party, USA Today reported. “Several women complained that the officer, Cmdr. Chris Servello, had slapped one on the buttocks, subjected another to unwanted hugs and pursued another so strenuously an investigator last December labeled it ‘predatory,” the newspaper reported in 2017.
Servello was fired from his job as spokesman for CNO Adm. John Richardson but allowed to continue his naval career. This led the Navy inspector general to rebuke Richardson “for the failure to discipline his spokesman Cdr. Chris Servello in a timely way,” USA Today reported in October.
Meanwhile, Moran “maintained contact with Servello during and after the investigation, including communicating with him on his personal email account. The investigation into Moran's ongoing contacts with Servello was conducted by the Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General,” NBC News reported.
In a written statement released on Sunday, Moran said, “I made this difficult decision based on an open investigation into the nature of some of my personal email correspondence over the past couple of years and for continuing to maintain a professional relationship with a former staff officer, now retired, who had while in uniform been investigated and held accountable over allegations of inappropriate behavior.”
What now? By law, Richardson can serve as CNO only until Sept. 17, per NBC News.
Some self-driving cars could be lethally tricked in the blink of an eye, according to findings from researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Ars Technica has the intriguing details — which involve a drone projecting false speed limits with images too fast for the human eye to catch — here. A notable alternate headline for this story: “Ghosts Only Cars Can Perceive.”
In a new first, Ukraine wants to buy some U.S. military equipment, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports today off an announcement made first via Twitter on Sunday. The request will likely include Javelin anti-tank weapon systems.
In case you were wondering, "The United States has given Ukraine military support, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, worth about $1.5 billion since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and fomented a separatist conflict in the Donbas region," RFE/RL writes. While "Russia has given the fighters more than 450 tanks and 700 pieces of heavy equipment, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month." Tiny bit more here.
BTW: Kiev’s special forces captured a pro-Russian separatist who allegedly helped shoot down flight MH17 in July 2014, killing nearly 300 people at the time, the Kiev Post reported Sunday after the BBC-Ukraine reported the story first on Friday.
This guy’s name: Vladimir Tsemakh, age 58, “a Ukrainian citizen from Snizhne, a town in Donetsk Oblast close to the Russian border.” He reportedly “disappeared from his home in Snizhne on June 27,” and was brought to Kyiv the following day, “where a court arrested him for two months. He is being accused of terrorism,” according to the Post.
As for his suspected role, he “may have helped transport the Buk launcher back to Russia.” And if you’re curious, he was not among the four suspects named in mid-June by the Joint Investigation Commission, which included three Russians and a Ukrainian man. More here.
UCLA professor faces as many as 219 years in prison “after a [Los Angeles] jury found him guilty of smuggling chips with military applications to China,” making money off the deal, and then lying about it to federal investigators, the Department of Justice announced last week after a seven-week trial in Los Angeles.
The man in question: Yi-Chi Shih, age 64, who was “an electrical engineer and adjunct professor at UCLA.”
The technology involved in the crimes: the “protected computer of a United States company that manufactured wide-band, high-power semiconductor chips known as monolithic microwave integrated circuits.” And those “semiconductor chips have a number of commercial and military applications, and its customers include the Air Force, Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,” DOJ wrote in its statement. “MMICs are used in missiles, missile guidance systems, fighter jets, electronic warfare, electronic warfare countermeasures and radar applications.”
Investigative entities involved: the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement; and IRS Criminal Investigation — and even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A sentencing hearing is yet to be scheduled. Read on, here.
Speaking of laptops and shady activity, “Libyan security forces have arrested two men accused of working for a Russian troll farm seeking to influence elections in the oil exporter and other African countries,” Bloomberg reported on Friday. The men were reportedly trying to meet with “Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, the fugitive son of the ousted dictator and a potential presidential candidate who enjoys the backing of some officials in Moscow.”
What’s more, “Laptops and memory sticks found with the suspects showed that they worked for an outfit identified as Fabrika Trollei, Russian for Troll Factory, that ‘specializes in influencing elections that are to be held in several African states’ including Libya, the letter, stamped by the attorney general’s office and obtained by Bloomberg, stated.”
Why run influence ops in Libya? Perhaps because “Libya had planned to hold elections this year as part of a UN-sponsored roadmap to heal the divisions that have plagued the OPEC member since the 2011 NATO-backed revolt.” More here.
The UN’s human rights chief is “appalled” at America’s dismal treatment of migrants and refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border, Reuters reports today.
“As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions,” said Michelle Bachelet in a public statement.
U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo penned an op-ed for the WSJ on Sunday defending the administration’s position on human rights in U.S. foreign policy. It comes as part of “plans to officially launch a new panel on human rights,” Politico reports.
“Since my teenage years as a West Point cadet,” Pompeo argues, “I’ve seen how special the American conception of freedom and human dignity is to the world. I studied the intersection of human rights law and warfare and confronted essential questions about human rights and how best to protect them. These central human questions about unalienable rights have profoundly affected my service as a soldier, lawyer, congressman, Central Intelligence Agency director and secretary of state. My hope is that the Commission on Unalienable Rights will ground our understanding of human rights in a manner that will both inform and better protect essential freedoms—and underscore how central these ideas are not only to Americans, but to all of humanity.” Continue reading, here.
And finally today: Are facts and analysis taking a diminishing role in American public life? If so, what are the consequences of that — and can we perhaps be doing things differently to improve the overall situation? Those are propositions assessed and explained in a recent Q&A with RAND political scientist Jennifer Kavanagh.
One myth she busts: That the media “has lost its objectivity” since the 1980s. Not true, Kavanagh says. “For broadcast and newspapers, we have actually seen only minor changes. Yes, there was a shift in print journalism from a more straightforward, event-based presentation of news to something that is more narrative, and in broadcast toward something more subjective. But those changes have been pretty small. Cable is probably the most subjective and filled with the most personal perspective, opinion, and argumentation, but their model is to appeal to niche audiences who have specific preferences.”
Up next in her studies: the role of "media literacy" and "media governance—whether there are policy or regulatory mechanisms that could help us reduce disinformation." Read more about “Truth decay” and our information spaces today, here.