Iran adds centrifuges; US consolidates at giant Korean base; Trump: ‘we did keep the oil’; US, China spar over the South China Sea; And a bit more.
Iran says it has doubled “the number of advanced centrifuges it operates, calling the decision a direct result of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal” from the multinational agreement that international agencies believed had frozen Iranian progress toward a nuclear weapon, the Associated Press reports today from Tehran. Iranian officials also claimed the country “now has a prototype centrifuge that works 50 times faster” than the ones permitted in that 2015 nuclear deal.
So what? Analysts suspect Iran could now acquire “enough material for building a nuclear weapon” in less than a year, which was the previous estimate before these two bits of centrifugal news. More here.
Israeli officials say the U.S. had better step up its counter-Iran work in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday from Tel Aviv. This concern rises from the recent death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as “what Israeli officials viewed as muted responses to alleged Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, the downing of an American drone, and a September attack, attributed to Iran, that knocked out about half of Saudi Arabia’s oil output.”
Leveraging the White House’s apparent interest in Russian relations, “Israel also thinks some U.S. presence would give Washington more influence in talks with Russia and other actors to negotiate what a stabilized Syria would look like after Islamic State and the end of the civil war,” the Journal writes.
What’s more, and in an echo of what Middle East analyst Charles Lister told us about two weeks ago, “Analysts say Israel has grown more concerned about the U.S.’s willingness to stand up for its allies in the region. Mr. Trump has repeatedly expressed wariness about getting too entangled in the Middle East,” according to the Journal.
By the way, that line from Lister is as follows: “There is a very clear consensus now that there is no desire to enter into a working relationship with the U.S. government on any strategic issue,” Lister added, “because there is zero faith that those relationships or agreements could still be standing in six months time.”
For what it’s worth, “Israel’s concerns about Washington’s posture toward Iran began to deepen last December, when Mr. Trump announced his intention to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, a decision he later scaled back. They intensified after Mr. Trump called off a planned strike in Iran to retaliate for Iran’s downing of an American surveillance drone. Israeli officials viewed the move as a signal to Iran that Mr. Trump has no interest in confronting Iran militarily.”
And that last point was one that was also expressed by Dana Stroul of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, when she told us, “Nobody at this point thinks that the Trump administration is going to put a credible threat of military force on the table for anything.” A bit more to WSJ’s report from Sunday, here.
From Defense One
It’s Not All Trump’s Fault: Syria Shows the Danger of War on the Cheap / Abigail Watson,Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen: America’s surprise withdrawal is deeply destabilizing, but so is the proxy war that Western countries have fought for five years.
America’s Military Is Misdirected, Not Underfunded // William D. Hartung: U.S. strategy should be more focused on preventing conflict with nuclear-armed China than on spinning out elaborate war-fighting scenarios.
We Don't Know Enough about How Women's Perspectives Help Achieve Military Missions // Jeannette Gaudry Haynie, Council on Foreign Relations: Plenty of anecdotes show the benefits of bringing female perspectives to U.S. military missions. What's needed is data.
Border Agents Can Now Get Classified Intelligence Information. Experts Call That Dangerous. // Melissa del Bosque, ProPublica: Classified information will flow from U.S. intelligence agencies to the National Vetting Center to border agents. Migrants and others denied entry will be unable to see the evidence against them.
A Plan to Crowdsource Voting Machines' Security Problems // : Andrea Noble, Government ExecutiveA northern Virginia infrastructure-threat clearinghouse is trying to build a system to help voting-system manufacturers learn about problems with their machines.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day 40 years ago, “a mob of Iranian students during the 1979 Islamic Revolution climbed the walls of the American Embassy in Tehran and took 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days,” the Wall Street Journal recounts today in a piece that assesses the historical significance of the Iranian hostage crisis.
Related: The White House released a message to Iran this morning. That message reads, in part, “The Iranian regime continues to target innocent civilians for use as pawns in its failed foreign relations. Until Iran changes this and its other hostile behavior, we will continue to impose crippling sanctions… [Iran’s leadership] can choose peace over hostage taking, assassinations, sabotage, maritime hijacking, and attacks on global oil markets. The United States seeks peace, and we support the Iranian people. It is time for the Iranian regime to do the same.”
U.S. forces are moving away from bases within reach of North Korean artillery and to a single base that is covered by new longer-ranged weapons, Army Times reported Friday.
A consolidation plan decades in the making. Since at least the 1980s, there have been proposals to move U.S. troops out of Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, first because such a large concentration of foreign troops affected South Korea’s perception of its sovereignty, and more recently because of Pyongyang’s steady buildup of artillery and other weapons that could reach the base from hardened bunkers north of the DMZ.
Units from Yongsan and other bases in northern South Korea have been moving south to Camp Humphreys, an $11 billion base largely financed by Seoul. “So while we may be out of short-range artillery, North Korea has developed weapon systems in response to our relocation," said Army Col. David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank who has two decades of military service in Asia. “We have pretty much consolidated the majority of combat forces at Camp Humphreys and that sure looks like a ‘fat target.'” There’s a lot more in the Army Times article, well worth reading, here.
Meanwhile: a South Korean lawmaker hopes the U.S. and North Korea will resume talking sometime this month, Reuters reports from Seoul.
AP felt obliged to fact-check a few outrageous claims by President Trump at a rally, on Twitter, and in remarks to reporters this weekend. That includes allegations from Trump that “The whistleblower gave a very inaccurate report about my phone call" with Ukraine's president in late July. AP's response: "The CIA officer’s accusations about improper conduct by Trump in his dealings with Ukraine have not been shown to be incorrect. Several key details have actually been corroborated by people with firsthand knowledge of the events who have appeared on Capitol Hill."
Another of the president’s claims alleges ISIS now-deceased leader "died whimpering and crying" when he was killed by U.S. forces more than a week ago. AP's response there "His top military leaders don’t know what Trump is talking about."
Perhaps the most significant of Trump's claims that need some work concerns his remarks about taking Syria's oil with the U.S. military. He told a crowd in Mississippi on Friday, “We did keep the oil, if you don’t mind. We kept the oil. And we’ll distribute that oil, we’ll help out the Kurds, we’ll help out other people. We’ll also help out ourselves.”
AP's fact-check: "It is by law Syria’s oil…White House officials have declined to explain what Trump means by keeping the oil. Pentagon officials have said privately they’ve been given no order to take ownership of any element of Syria’s oil resources, including the wells and stored crude." More here.
One POV on President Trump’s Syrian oil control plan: “That’s like a giant 300-foot recruiting poster for ISIS,” says Joe Biden in conversation with the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib.
Delayed transparency in the air war vs. ISIS. More than four years after the airstrike, the Dutch Defense Ministry says one of its F-16s killed about 70 people when it dropped a bomb on an ISIS bomb factory near the northern Iraqi city of Hawija in early June 2015. Those are the findings in a letter Defence Minister Anna Bijleveld-Schouten recently wrote to parliament. More from Reuters, here.
The UK is now under a “substantial” terrorism threat, a label that was just downgraded from “severe,” Reuters reports in a shorty from London.
And lastly today: A war of words continues over Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea. White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien is in Bangkok today for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Last year, Vice President Mike Pence attended. He’s back stateside this year campaigning with his president.
O’Brien wasted no time taking a swing at China in public remarks today regarding its well-documented antagonism in the contested waters of the South China Sea, telling the crowd, "Beijing has used intimidation to try to stop ASEAN nations from exploiting the off-shore resources, blocking access to 2.5 trillion dollars of oil and gas reserves alone... We don’t think they should be handled by intimidation or through maritime militias or by random ships or by surrounding islands… That’s just not how things should be done in the 21st Century. That’s conquest.”
The response from China’s vice foreign minister: it is unacceptable for countries from outside the region to come “to make waves, escalate disputes and create tensions,” Reuters reports from Bangkok. Read the rest, here.