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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Senators Voice Concern About Easing Pressure on North Korea

U.S. senators cautioned the Trump administration Tuesday about the risk of moving too quickly to ease pressure on North Korea ahead of a planned summit next week between President Donald Trump and leader Kim Jong Un. Republicans and Democrats at a Senate hearing questioned whether Kim is serious about giving up his nuclear weapons. “North Korea has not taken any concrete or verifiable steps” to give up its nuclear weapons, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said. Gardner warned that it would be a mistake to ease pressure and questioned the hearing’s witnesses on whether pressure had already eased on the North Koreans.

Joseph Yun, the former top U.S. diplomat for North Korea who retired earlier this year, said that Pyongyang already had halted weapons tests and appeared to have dismantled one facility. “I don’t think you can have serious engagement as well as maximum pressure,” Yun said. “When your adversary takes a step, it is also up to you to take a step.”

Former George W. Bush administration negotiator Victor Cha told the panel it appeared that Kim had already started to benefit from the planned talks. “I am concerned,” Cha said, citing satellite imagery that he said showed increased preparations in South Korea for increased trade and aid. “There are things that are already starting to be put in motion that are being presented as rewards to North Korea for the steps they’ve already taken.”

Senators from both parties also voiced concerns about suspicions that Chinese enforcement of strict UN sanctions targeting North Korea’s economy already had begun to slide, reversing months of tighter pressure by Beijing. At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that U.S. and international sanctions on Pyongyang remain in place and there have been no changes in U.S. policy. “We remain committed to the complete verifiable, irreversible, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” she Nauert said. Wall Street Journal
Related:
Reuters: Trump’s North Korea Summit May Bring Peace Declaration - But at a Cost
Reuters: Putin Praises ‘Brave’ Trump Over Planned Meeting With North Korea's Kim
The Guardian: What Will Be The Outcome of Trump and Kim Jong Un's Nuclear Summit?

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What comes next in Afghanistan? “Lost amid the intense media focus on the upcoming talks with North Korea and other pressing international issues is the conflict in Afghanistan, which at times appears to be an afterthought. That is unfortunate because it seems to have taken a turn for the worse,” Michael Dempsey writes in The Hill. “While it is true that a sharp uptick in violence and tactical setbacks for government forces are not unusual at the outset of each fighting season, there are several worrisome long-term indicators that have also surfaced and that deserve close scrutiny.”

Is Trump following a grand Mideast strategy? “Mr. Trump’s disregard of orthodoxy could turn out to be exactly what’s needed to sequence a comprehensive strategy for stabilizing the region—and to stanch the flow of Islamist terror to Europe and the U.S.,” Daniel J. Arbess writes in the Wall Street Journal. “After decades of Middle East failure, though, bold disruption seems exactly what is necessary. Last century’s ‘experts’ have had their turn.”

America, Hold on to Your Allies. You’ll Need Them: “If the Trump administration truly seeks to address the challenges posed by China that are outlined in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, it is essential to temper the president’s unilateralist and protectionist proclivities, rebuild relations with allies and restore American credibility and leadership,” Bonnie S. Glaser writes in the New York Times.

Can Facebook be cut down to size? “Throughout its history, Facebook has adamantly argued that it treats our data, and who has access to it, as a sort of sacred trust, with Zuckerberg & Company being the trustees. Yet at the same time, Facebook has continued to undermine privacy by making it cumbersome to opt out of sharing, trying to convince users that we actually do want to share all of our personal information (and some people actually do) and by leaving the door unlocked for its partners and clients to come in and help themselves,” the New York Times Editorial Board writes.
 

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McCabe seeks immunity ahead of hearing over FBI handling of Clinton email probe: Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has requested the Senate Judiciary Committee provide him with immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying at an upcoming congressional hearing focused on how senior officials at the FBI and Justice Department handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server. “Under the terms of such a grant of use immunity, no testimony or other information provided by Mr. McCabe could be used against him in a criminal case,” a lawyer for McCabe wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA, who has requested McCabe testify next week.

McCabe is entangled in a separate criminal investigation stemming from a report from the inspector general’s office that concluded he lied to internal investigators. McCabe has denied wrongdoing, but any congressional testimony he provides could have implications for his criminal case. CNN, Politico

Members of Congress call on Mattis to overturn transgender troop ban: More than 100 members of Congress signed a letter Tuesday calling on Defense Secretary James Mattis to reverse the Pentagon’s ban on most transgender people from military service. The letter, authored by Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), takes aim at the Pentagon study that recommended transgender people be allowed to serve only under limited circumstances. Kennedy and his colleagues accused the Pentagon of “cherry-picking” outdated studies to reach its conclusion.  “There is a deep chasm between established medical research and the underlying analysis your Department used to justify this policy, and we call on you to reverse your recommendations,” Kennedy wrote. USA Today

Facebook confirms data sharing with Chinese companies: Facebook admitted Tuesday that it allowed Huawei, a Chinese telecom company with alleged ties to China’s government, to have special access to data about the social site’s users. Chinese telecommunications companies have come under scrutiny from U.S. intelligence officials who argue they provide an opportunity for foreign espionage and threaten critical U.S. infrastructure, something the Chinese have consistently denied. Facebook said on Tuesday it would end the Huawei agreement later this week. It is also ending three other partnerships with Chinese firms. Washington Post, Reuters

New sentencing for Ohio man who tried to help ISIS: A federal judge has rescheduled sentencing for an Ohio man convicted of trying to assist ISIS. U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus on Tuesday in Columbus rescheduled Aaron Daniels’ sentencing from Thursday to July 6. Daniels pleaded guilty last July to a charge accusing him of attempting to travel to Libya to join ISIS. Authorities say Daniels wired $250 to an ISIS operative in January 2016 and told an undercover informant that he was interested in traveling to commit violence overseas. Associated Press

NSC contractor arrested on attempted murder charges: The Secret Service on Tuesday arrested an NSC contractor who was wanted in Maryland for attempted first-degree murder. Martese Maurice Edwards was detained when he showed up for work at the White House on Tuesday morning, a day after Secret Service says it was notified about a warrant for Edwards’ arrest. The warrant was reportedly filed by the Prince George’s County sheriff’s department on May 17. Edwards was charged Tuesday with being a fugitive from justice in a court in Washington, DC and could be extradited to Maryland to face the attempted murder charge. The Daily Beast, The Hill


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U.S., TURKEY REACH DEAL OVER NORTHERN SYRIAN TOWN
The U.S. and Turkey reached a strategically vital accord over a northern Syrian town, U.S. State Department officials said Tuesday, defusing a potential military flashpoint between the two allies. Manbij has been a point of contention between Turkey and Syrian Kurds, each of which has forces with competing missions in the area. The agreement, which the U.S. and Turkey called a roadmap, was reached Monday between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.

For the U.S., the deal eases fears that Turkish troops will enter the town and enable the Syrian Kurdish forces Washington has been backing to focus on fighting ISIS. For Turkey, the agreement provides assurances that the Kurdish forces they oppose will withdraw from the town and move east of the Euphrates River. The town is administered by local officials who are acceptable to all sides. Wall Street Journal

Amnesty International says U.S.-led strikes on Raqqa may amount to war crimes: Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition in Raqqa, Syria likely breached international humanitarian law and potentially amount to war crimes, according to Amnesty International. The rights group is accusing the coalition of killing and injuring thousands of civilians in attacks that were at times “disproportionate or indiscriminate” during its offensive to push ISIS militants from Raqqa. “The coalition's claims that its precision air campaign allowed it to bomb (ISIS) out of Raqqa while causing very few civilian casualties do not stand up to scrutiny,” Amnesty said. A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition slammed the report, saying that Amnesty never approached the Pentagon about its findings and was out of line for suggesting the coalition has violated international law. CNN

In Syria, a Russian move causes friction with Iran-backed forces: A Russian troop deployment in Syria near the Lebanese border this week caused friction with Iran-backed forces including Hezbollah which objected to the uncoordinated move, two non-Syrian officials in the regional alliance backing Damascus said. The situation was resolved on Tuesday when Syrian army soldiers took over three positions where the Russians had deployed in Homs on Monday, one of the officials said. The incident appeared to be a rare case of Russia acting out of sync with President Bashar al-Assad’s Iran-backed allies in the war. Reuters

ISIS kills 45 pro-regime fighters in east Syria assault: An offensive by ISIS in eastern Syria has left at least 45 pro-regime fighters dead, a monitoring group said Tuesday. ISIS fighters launched the operation Sunday against Euphrates Valley villages seized last year by government forces and their allies, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said at least 26 ISIS fighters were also killed since the fighting started on Sunday. Agence France Presse

South Korea warned of cyber attacks ahead of summit: South Korea has been hit by “significant” cyber attacks in recent weeks, according to a leading internet security group, which warned the barrage was likely to increase ahead of next week’s meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. California-headquartered internet security group FireEye said it found evidence of advanced China and Russia-linked hacking outfits targeting South Korean entities, most likely linked to the government in Seoul. Financial Times


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IRAN PLANS NEW URANIUM ENRICHMENT IF NUCLEAR DEAL COLLAPSES
Iran announced Tuesday that it has taken steps to increase its capacity for uranium enrichment in a warning of the potential consequences of the U.S. withdrawal last month from the 2015 nuclear deal. Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said his government had notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plans to build a new facility for producing next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.

Salehi stressed that Iran’s plans do not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 nuclear accord is called. Under the agreement, the country is allowed to build centrifuge parts but cannot put them into operation for a decade. Salehi said new centrifuges will be assembled if the JCPOA collapses. The move complicates the task for Europeans trying to salvage the agreement since the U.S. withdrawal. Washington Post

Abadi warns of violations in Iraq's election: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday there were “dangerous violations” in the May 12 parliamentary election and banned members of the election commission from traveling, a move that could hinder the delicate process of forming a new government. The election was won by a bloc led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a long-time adversary of the U.S. who also opposes Iran’s sway in Iraq. Abadi told a news conference that a report presented to the government recommended a partial manual recount of the vote and the cancellation of results from overseas and from displaced voters. He said most of the blame for the violations lay with Iraq’s Independent High Elections Commission. Reuters

Israel says it thwarted plot to assassinate prime minister, Jerusalem mayor: Israeli forces arrested an East Jerusalem man suspected of planning to assassinate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat earlier this year on orders from a Syria-based terrorist group, Israel’s Shin Bet security service revealed Tuesday. The main suspect, Arab Israeli Muhammad Jamal Rashdeh, was arrested on April 24. Two more suspects were arrested in the following weeks, the Shin Bet said. The security service refused to identify the two suspected accomplices. The Times of Israel

British terror suspect reported by mother: The mother of a British Taliban fighter accused of planning an attack in Westminster reported her son to police just hours before he arrived to carry out his attack, a court heard on Tuesday. Khalid Ali was found armed with three knives when he was arrested in Parliament Square in April last year. His arrest came four weeks after Khalid Masood's attack near the Houses of Parliament, in which five people died in March 2017. Sky News, BBC News




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