Posts Tagged ‘Defense Secretary James Mattis’

Susan Rice: “We can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

August 12, 2017

North Korea’s substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security. But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully.

Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious.

Shortly after adoption of new United Nations sanctions last weekend, North Korea threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times” over. Those sanctions were especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North. August is also when the United States and South Korea conduct major joint military exercises, which always set Pyongyang on edge. In August 2015, tensions escalated into cross-border artillery exchanges after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines laid by North Korea. This juxtaposition of tough sanctions and military exercises has predictably heightened North Korea’s threats.

We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.

Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.

We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea.

Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.

The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said last week that if North Korea “had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the president’s perspective.” Surely, we must take every reasonable step to reduce and eliminate this threat. And surely there may be circumstances in which war is necessary, including an imminent or actual attack on our nation or our allies.

But war is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded. History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

It will require being pragmatic.

First, though we can never legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, we know it is highly unlikely to relinquish its sizable arsenal because Mr. Kim deems the weapons essential to his regime’s survival. The North can now reportedly reach United States territory with its ICBMs. The challenge is to ensure that it would never try.

By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.

Second, to avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears.

Third, we must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses, and those of our allies, which need our reassurances more than ever.

Fourth, we must continue to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang’s political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign.

Finally, we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal.

Rational, steady American leadership can avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat. It’s past time that the United States started exercising its power responsibly.

Trump Says U.S.‘Losing’ Afghan War in Tense Meeting With Generals — Leaders Lack a Strategy Approved By The President

August 3, 2017

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has become increasingly frustrated with his advisers tasked with crafting a new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and recently suggested firing the war’s top military commander during a tense meeting at the White House, according to senior administration officials.

During the July 19 meeting, Trump repeatedly suggested that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford replace Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, because he is not winning the war, the officials said. Trump has not met Nicholson, and the Pentagon has been considering extending his time in Afghanistan.

Over nearly two hours in the situation room, according to the officials, Trump complained about NATO allies, inquired about the United States getting a piece of Afghan’s mineral wealth and repeatedly said the top U.S. general there should be fired. He also startled the room with a story that seemed to compare their advice to that of a paid consultant who cost a tony New York restaurateur profits by offering bad advice.

 Exclusive: In Meeting, Pres. Trump Lashed Out at Military Leaders on Afghanistan 2:07

Trump is the third president to grapple with the war in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, two American troops were killed in Afghanistan when a convoy they were in came under attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Trump’s national security team has been trying for months to come up with a new strategy he can approve. Those advisers are set to meet again to discuss the issue on Thursday at the White House. The president is not currently scheduled to attend the meeting, though one official said that could change.

Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush went through multiple strategies over the course of their presidencies to try to stabilize Afghanistan. What set Trump apart in the July meeting was his open questioning of the quality of the advice he was receiving.

Image: Trump is introduced by Mattis during the commissioning ceremony of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia
President Donald Trump is introduced by Defense Secretary James Mattis during the commissioning ceremony of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford at Naval Station Norfolk. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

During the meeting, Trump criticized his military advisers seated around the table in the White House Situation Room for what he said was a losing U.S. position in the war, according to the senior administration officials. At one point the president directed his frustration at Mattis, saying Trump had given the military authority months ago to make advances in Afghanistan and yet the U.S. was continuing to lose ground, the officials said.

Related: Pentagon Weighs More Aggressive Role in Afghanistan

“We aren’t winning,” Trump complained, according to these officials. “We are losing.”

One official said Trump pointed to maps showing the Taliban gaining ground, and that Mattis responded to the president by saying the U.S. is losing because it doesn’t have the strategy it needs.

The White House declined to comment on internal deliberations.

“The president’s national security team is developing a comprehensive, integrated strategy for South Asia that utilizes all aspects of our national power to address this complex region,” said Michael Anton, spokesman for the National Security Council. “That strategy has been worked carefully in the interagency process and while no decision has been made the president’s team continues to develop options for him that address threats and opportunities to America arising from this vital region.”

Told that Trump was considering firing Gen. Nicholson, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “I can’t think of a good reason to fire the general. I think he’s done an admirable job.”

Image: Joseph Dunford
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford testifies on Capitol Hill on March 22. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP File

“If the president doesn’t listen to the generals, like Gen. Nicholson and he goes down the road that President Obama went, Afghanistan is going to collapse,” Graham said. “Here’s my advice to the president — listen to people like Gen. Nicholson and McMaster and others who have been in the fight.”

Trump Compares Afghanistan to a Famous New York Restaurant

The president’s advisers went into the mid-July meeting hoping he would sign off on an Afghanistan strategy after months of delays, officials said. One official said the president’s team has coalesced around a strategy, though it had presented him with other options as well such as complete withdrawal.

Trump, however, appeared to have been significantly influenced by a meeting he’d recently had with a group of veterans of the Afghanistan war, and he was unhappy with the options presented to him.

Trump vented to his national security team that the veterans told him forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have not been helpful, and he lamented that China is making money off of Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion in rare minerals while American troops are fighting the war, officials said. Trump expressed frustration that his advisers tasked with figuring out how the U.S. can help American businesses get rights to those minerals were moving too slowly, one official said.

China purchased mineral rights in Afghanistan a decade ago, an investment the U.S. supported at the time. Beijing has since had teams mining copper outside of Kabul.

 Casualties Reported After Taliban Suicide Bomber Targets NATO Convoy 0:34

The focus on the minerals was reminiscent of Trump’s comments early into his presidency when he lamented that the U.S. didn’t take Iraq’s oil when the majority of forces departed the country in 2011.

To underscore his view that the veterans who fought in the war may be better positioned to advise him on an Afghanistan strategy, Trump compared the policy review process to the renovation of a famed New York restaurant in the 1980s, officials said.

Trump told his advisers that the restaurant, Manhattan’s elite ’21’ Club, had shut its doors for a year and hired an expensive consultant to craft a plan for a renovation. After a year, Trump said, the consultant’s only suggestion was that the restaurant needed a bigger kitchen.

Officials said Trump kept stressing the idea that lousy advice cost the owner a year of lost business and that talking to the restaurant’s waiters instead might have yielded a better result. He also said the tendency is to assume if someone isn’t a three-star general he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that in his own experience in business talking to low-ranking workers has gotten him better outcomes.

The ’21’ Club, which has been one of Trump’s favorite New York spots, closed for two months in 1987 while it underwent a full renovation and reopened to great fanfare.

Image: U.S. troops walk outside their base in Uruzgan province
U.S. troops walk outside their base in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan July 7, 2017. Omar Sobhani / Reuters

One senior administration official said the president mentioned the restaurant in an attempt to convey to his advisers that sometimes the best advice comes from those working day-to-day in a place, rather than those who are farther removed.

“The clear message if you heard the story was: high-priced consultants or high-priced anybody, expensive supposedly-big-brained people, but who are physically far from the source of the problem, often give you much worse advice than the supposedly low-ranking guys who are right there,” the official said.

Mattis Upset After Trump Meeting

Trump left the national security meeting without making a decision on a strategy. His advisers were stunned, administration officials and others briefed on the meeting said.

Two Pentagon officials close to Mattis said he returned from the White House that morning visibly upset. Mattis often takes a walk when grappling with an issue. That afternoon, the walk took longer than usual, the officials said.

Among those at the meeting were Trump’s senior White House advisers including Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and then chief-of-staff Reince Priebus, plus Mattis, Dunford, Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

At one point, Dunford offered to set up a meeting for Trump with Gen. Nicholson in the hopes that personal interaction may soothe Trump’s concerns about his leadership.

Mattis also defended Gen. Nicholson, an official said, adding that the conversation about the commander ended inconclusively.

In an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, McMaster praised Nicholson.

“I’ve known him for many years,” McMaster said. “I can’t imagine a more capable commander in any, on any mission.” Asked whether the president had confidence in Nicholson, McMaster said “absolutely.”

But a defense official confirmed that discussions are underway at the Pentagon regarding Nicholson’s future in Afghanistan.

Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White told NBC News that Mattis “has confidence in Gen. Nicholson’s leadership.”

Image: General John Nicholson speaks during an opening ceremony of "Invictus Games" at the Resolute Support Headquarter in Kabul
General John Nicholson, the Commander of US Forces Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, speaks during an opening ceremony of “Invictus Games” at the Resolute Support Headquarter, in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 13 , 2017. Massoud Hossaini / AP file

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst, suggested the delay in finalizing a strategy has hurt U.S. efforts in the war.

“The situation in Afghanistan is not improving, but I think it’s hardly irretrievable at this point, and what the president needs to be doing is deciding on the strategy,” Admiral Stavridis said.

“What is hurting the process at the moment is this back and forth about do we stay or do we go, how many troops,” he added. “Any commander is going to be incredibly handicapped in an environment like that. So I think the fundamental problem here is lack of decisiveness in Washington, specifically in the White House.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump often talked about knowing more than U.S. military generals. Last September, he suggested he would probably have different generals from those who served under former President Barack Obama.

Related: Afghan Violence: Attack Hits Convoy, Kills 2 U.S. Service Members

Retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey advised against shaping a strategy around advice from troops serving on the ground.

“One of the last things you necessarily want to do is form policy advice based on what the current combatants think about something in a war zone,” said Gen. McCaffrey, an MSNBC military analyst. “They’re qualified totally to talk about tactics and things like that and what they’re seeing, but the president’s job is to formulate strategy and policy not to do tactical decisions.”

He also said acquiring mineral rights in Afghanistan is complicated and potentially costly because it would require the type of security the U.S. has been unable to achieve, as well as a workforce and access to a port to ship the materials.

Nicholson has called the war a “stalemate” and said he needs a “few thousand” additional troops. “Offensive capability is what will break the stalemate in Afghanistan,” he said in February during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

 7 US soldiers wounded during another insider attack in Afghanistan 0:18

His comments angered White House officials who thought they boxed in the president before he had made any decisions, according to Pentagon officials.

In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of key counties where Trump had broad support in the November election, 46 percent of respondents supported sending more troops to Afghanistan while 36 percent opposed.

Related: Watchdog: Pentagon Should Declassify Report on Afghan Military Sex Abuse

Heading into its 16th year, the war in Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history.

A decision on an Afghanistan strategy was expected more than two months ago, but it has been delayed as the president remains unsatisfied with the options. Last month he gave Mattis authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, but Mattis has been unable to do so absent a presidential strategy. Trump also gave his military commanders broad authority to make key decisions. The move resulted in the U.S. dropping its largest non-nuclear weapon in Afghanistan several months ago.

The U.S. currently has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Some of Trump’s advisers are advocating for a very limited U.S. role in the war, while others have recommended several thousand additional troops. Officials said it’s unclear when the president will sign off on a new strategy.

Includes videos:

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-says-u-s-losing-afghan-war-tense-meeting-generals-n789006

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Security officials inspect the scene of the blast outside the Great Mosque in Herat, August 1, 2017.

Tillerson asks China to ‘step up’ on North Korea

June 5, 2017

Beijing needs to do more to rein in North Korea and the global threat it represents, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Australia. He also said President Donald Trump wanted to “stay engaged” on climate change.

 Rex Tillerson Australien (Reuters/J.Reed)

Visiting Australia with Defense Secretary James Mattis on Sunday, the US top diplomat Tillerson sought to reassure Canberra of the long-standing alliance with Washington.

With Australia close to the simmering conflict in the South China Sea, some politicians have expressed concern that the US might give concessions to Beijing in exchange for help on the North Korean threat.

“We desire productive relationships,” Tillerson said after meeting his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop.

“But we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether it’s militarizing islands in the South China Sea or failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea.”

He also urged Beijing and other countries in the region to “step up” their efforts to resolve the North Korean crisis, which threatens the entire world.

Australia a ‘beacon of hope’

The two-day visit comes as Australia and the world still reel from Washington’s rejection of the Paris climate accord.

Answering a question on Trump’s apparent turn to isolationism, Tillerson said that his visit “demonstrates that it certainly is not this administration’s view or intention to somehow put at arm’s length the important partners and allies in the world.”

Mattis, also appearing at the conference alongside Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Sydney, called Australia “a beacon of hope” for the world.

Climate still “important” to Trump

Tillerson also commented on the climate dispute between the US and the overwhelming majority of the world nations, saying that president was “not walking away” from climate change.

“He’s simply walking away from what he felt was an agreement that did not serve the American people well,” he said.

The US President is interested in “perhaps a new construct of an agreement,” according Tillerson, because the climate “is still important and that he wants to stay engaged on the issue.”

In addition to the crisis in Asia, the two US officials also commented on the ongoing crisis in the Gulf, triggered by the decision of several Arab nations to cut ties with Qatar over its alleged support to Islamist groups and links with Iran. Tillerson called on the Gulf countries to stay united and “address these differences.” He added that it was unlikely that the strife would influence the fight against Islamic terrorism.

dj/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/tillerson-asks-china-to-step-up-on-north-korea/a-39116964

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Anti-IS coalition meets in Denmark to assess campaign — Bracing for a possible wave of battle-hardened jihadists returning home to Europe

May 9, 2017

AFP

AFP/File / by Thomas WATKINS | Defense Secretary James Mattis will press coalition partners for more demining help
COPENHAGEN (AFP) – Key members of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria meet in Copenhagen on Tuesday to assess the campaign’s next steps as the jihadists’ “caliphate” collapses.Though officials warn that military action will continue for some time, they are generally upbeat about the progress and quickening momentum of the fight.

After months of brutal, street-by-street combat, IS has now lost control of most of its stronghold of Mosul in Iraq, while the jihadists have become largely isolated in their Syrian bastion of Raqa.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis and his Danish counterpart Claus Hjort Frederiksen are among the senior leaders from 15 countries attending Tuesday’s summit.

“We’re going to look to the future, determine what more is needed, if anything,” Mattis told reporters ahead of his arrival in Denmark.

Several coalition countries are keeping a nervous eye on the region as IS-held territory diminishes.

Thousands of foreign fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, and coalition nations — particularly in Europe — are bracing for a possible wave of battle-hardened jihadists returning home.

According to a senior US administration official, Interpol has identified 14,000 foreign fighters it knows has travelled to Syria and are still alive.

The largest numbers come from Tunisia, followed by Saudi Arabia.

Thousands more have travelled from Europe, including 100 or so from Denmark, said the official, who asked not to be named.

The international law enforcement agency Interpol is now part of the anti-IS coalition, becoming the alliance’s 68th member.

– Bombs in cupboards –

The campaign against IS began in autumn 2014 and has seen the Iraqi security forces -? backed with coalition training and air power ?- reverse humiliating losses and recapture several key cities including Ramadi and Fallujah.

Iraq’s second city Mosul is now mainly back under Iraqi control, though IS continues to hold the Old City on the west side, where its fighters are preparing for a bloody last stand.

In Syria, coalition-backed Kurdish and Arab forces have been gradually recapturing towns and villages, with the focus now on isolating Raqa ahead of a major offensive to seize back the city after more than two years of jihadi rule.

US President Donald Trump came to power on a pledge to destroy IS.

Though much of the groundwork had already been laid and the coalition had conducted thousands of strikes, US military leaders credit Trump with delegating them greater authority, enabling a quickening pace of operations.

Critics say the additional strikes have accelerated the rate of civilian deaths.

The administration official said one request for the coalition would be for more de-mining support to help clear areas abandoned by IS.

The jihadists have rigged explosives to homes, buildings and even the doors on people’s cupboards, and clearing these bombs and mines is a massive undertaking.

Officials also want quicker access to funds and resources to help with stabilising and protecting areas after IS has left.

by Thomas WATKINS

Qatar Pays Ransomes To Gain Release of 26 Hostages, Some From Royal Family, in Caper Apparently Involving Syrian Refugee Releases

April 22, 2017

AFP and the Associated Press

© HO, Iraqi Interior Ministry, AFP | Image grab from a handout video released by the Iraqi Interior Ministry on April 21, 2017, shows released Qatari hunters boarding a plane at Baghdad airport.

Qatar has secured the release of 26 hostages after nearly a year and a half in captivity, including members of its ruling family, in what became possibly the region’s most complex and sensitive hostage negotiation deal in recent years.

Several people with knowledge of the talks and a person involved in the negotiations said the hostage deal was linked to one of the largest population transfers in Syria‘s six-year-long civil war, and was delayed for several days due to an explosion one week ago that killed at least 130 people, most of them children and government supporters, waiting to be transferred.

The transfer of thousands of Syrian civilians was also tied to another deal involving 750 political prisoners to be released by the Syrian government.

The complexity of the talks highlights Qatar‘s role as an experienced and shrewd facilitator in hostage negotiations – this time involving members of the Gulf Arab state’s ruling family.

It also raised allegations that the tiny energy rich nation paid millions of dollars to an al-Qaida-linked group to facilitate the population transfer in Syria that led to the hostages’ release in Iraq on Friday.

Qatar is home to Centcom’s regional headquarters and is where the U.S. has its largest military base in the Middle East. It is also a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

The incident was sparked when the group was kidnapped Dec. 16, 2015 from a desert camp for falcon hunters in southern Iraq. They had legally entered Iraq to hunt inside Muthanna province, some 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Shiite militias are active in that area and work closely with the neighboring Shiite power Iran.

A person involved in the negotiations told the AP that 11 of the captives were members of Qatar’s Al Thani ruling family. He also said Qatar paid tens of millions of dollars to Shiite groups, and to the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee and Ahrar al-Sham, which are involved in the population transfers underway in Syria. Both groups were part of an armed opposition alliance that swept through Syria’s Idlib province, seizing it from government control in 2015 and laying siege to two pro-government villages now being evacuated.

Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, the negotiator said the Qatari group was being held by Iraqi Shiite militia Kata’eb Hezbollah. The group officially denies it was behind the kidnapping and no other group has publicly claimed responsibility for the abduction.

He said Qatari officials were given assurances about the well-being of the hostages during negotiations.

Two Iraqi officials- a government and a security official – also confirmed details of the release to the AP.

The abduction of the Qatari group drew Iran, Qatar and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah into negotiations, resulting in millions of dollars in payments to Sunni and Shiite factions, according to Iraqi officials and a person involved in the negotiations. They say the talks took place in Beirut.

The negotiator said the ongoing evacuation and transfer of thousands of Syrians from four besieged areas was central to the release of the Qataris. The two pro-government villages, Foua and Kfarya, had been besieged by rebel fighters and under a steady barrage of rockets and mortars for years. The two opposition-held towns, Zabadani and Madaya, were under government siege for joining the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The opposition-run Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian conflict through a network of on-the-ground activists, says the transfer included 800 armed men from both sides. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the group, told the AP that the population swap in Syria was directly tied to the issue of the kidnapped Qataris.

Abdurrahman, citing information from negotiators he’d spoken with, said the Qataris first proposed bringing the fate of the hunting group into the talks about the besieged four areas in Syria.

The population exchange has been criticized by rights groups, which say it rewards siege tactics and amounts to forcible displacement along sectarian lines.

Iraqi Interior Ministry official Wahhab al-Taie told The Associated Press the hostages had been released into the custody of the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The group departed Friday afternoon on a private Qatari jet from Baghdad.

Qatar’s state TV showed the arrival of the group from Iraq as ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani waited to receive them on the tarmac. A short statement published on the state-run Qatar News Agency said the 26 Qatari citizens had arrived in the capital, Doha, after being kidnapped in Iraq while they were on a hunting trip.

Qataris on social media shared their elation at the release. With a population of around 2.6 million people, the crisis reverberated across the small country.

Their release was a priority of Qatar’s foreign policy for more than a year, said David Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The AP reported last week that a Qatari ruling family member paid $2 million, in an effort involving hackers, to secure the release of the hostages.

Weinberg, who has testified before Congress about Qatar’s role in hostage negotiations, said alleged enormous payments paid to a group with ties to al-Qaida creates incentive for future hostage taking. He said Qatar continues to “punch above its weight” in ways that concern some people in Washington.

“This is going to confront the new (Trump) administration in Washington with a serious question … Is the U.S. administration going to push Qatar to ensure that it does not pay ransom to terrorist organizations in the future,” he said.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is due to arrive in Qatar on Saturday as part of his first region-wide official visit since President Donald Trump took office.

Qatar says it does not support extremist groups in Syria or elsewhere, despite aggressive efforts to back Sunni rebel groups fighting to oust the Syrian government, which is backed by Iran and Russia.

The country’s ambitious foreign policy efforts haven’t always succeeded. Gulf neighbors withdrew their ambassadors in 2014 over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt, where the group was ousted.

Still, Qatar plays an important role by talking to groups that many governments want to distance themselves from, said Ayham Kamel of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

For example, Qatar’s capital city of Doha has hosted talks between the Taliban and Afghan government. Qatar has also secured the release of hostages in Syria’s civil war, including 13 Greek Orthodox nuns held by an al-Qaida affiliate there.

Kamel says the deal struck to release the Qatari nationals shows that Doha’s politics have become more nuanced.

(AP)

Trump launches military strike against Syria — “President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line”

April 7, 2017

Updated 12:17 AM ET, Fri April 7, 2017

(CNN) The United States launched a military strike Thursday on a Syrian government target in response to their chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians earlier in the week.

On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase where the warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks were based, US officials said.
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The strike is the first direct military action the US has taken against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s six-year civil war and represent a substantial escalation of the US’ military campaign in the region, which could be interpreted by the Syrian government as an act of war.
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“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Trump said during short remarks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, where he ordered the strike just hours earlier. “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
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He added: “There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.”
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Shift in policy

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Trump’s decision marked a dramatic shift in his position on whether the US should take military action against the Syrian President’s regime — which Trump opposed during his campaign for president — and came after the President was visibly and publicly moved by the images of this week’s chemical weapons attack.
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US warships launch cruise missiles at Syria 00:33
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The strike took place at 8:40 p.m. ET (3:40 a.m. local time), when there would be minimal activity at the base, and targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and “the things that make the airfield operate,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters. The missiles were launched from warships in the Eastern Mediterranean.
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“Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
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Briefing reporters late Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the strike did not represent a “change in our policy or our posture in Syria,” even though the Thursday night strike marked the first time the US had decided to take military action against the Syrian government.
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“There has been no change in that status,” he said. “It does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line … and cross the line in the most heinous of ways.”
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Tillerson said the administration felt the strike was “proportional because it was targeted at the facility that delivered this most recent chemical attack.”
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The US military also showed reporters Thursday night an image of the radar track of a Syrian airplane leaving the airfield and flying to the chemical strike area Tuesday. A second image of bomb damage craters at the airbase was also shown to reporters at the Pentagon.
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Tillerson said the US has a “very high level of confidence” that the Syrian regime carried out at least three attacks in recent weeks — including on Tuesday — using Sarin and nerve gas.
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The strikes represented not only an escalation of the US role in Syria, but could have a ripple effect on the US’ relations with the Syrian regime’s powerful backer, Russia.
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Russians were present at the base the US struck Thursday night, a US defense official said, though the role of those Russians was not immediately known.
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Tillerson confirmed that the US military contacted their Russian counterparts about the attack ahead of time, in accordance with deconfliction policies between the US and Russia over military activities in Syria.
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Congressional reaction

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Lawmakers generally supported Trump’s decision to strike back against Assad Thursday night, but cautioned the President against unilaterally starting a war without first consulting Congress.
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A pair of defense hawks — Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — who have frequently been critical of Trump, roundly praised his decision Thursday night.
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“Acting on the orders of their commander-in-chief, they have sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs,” McCain and Graham said in a joint statement.
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Rubio: Russia should be embarrassed, ashamed

Rubio: Russia should be embarrassed, ashamed 01:16
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But Sen. Rand Paul called on Trump to consult on Congress.
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“While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked,” Paul said. “The President needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate.”
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The US began launching airstrikes in Syria in September 2014 under President Barack Obama as part of its coalition campaign against ISIS, but has only targeted the terrorist group and not Syrian government forces.
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The order

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Trump met with his national security team before his dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago Thursday, where he made the decision to pull the trigger on the biggest military action of his presidency, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said.
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He sat through dinner with Xi as the action was under way.
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The decision came two days after he was “immediately notified” of the chemical attack in Syria and asked his team to determine who was responsible. After it became clear Assad was responsible, Trump asked his team to develop options — and settled on one Thursday after “a meeting of considerable length and far-reaching discussion,” McMaster told reporters.
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Defense Secretary James Mattis has been updating Trump about the missile strikes in Syria following his dinner with Xi, according to a US official.
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Mattis, Tillerson and McMaster were with Trump at Mar-a-Lago at the time. Vice President Mike Pence remained in Washington, where he returned to the White House after dinner.
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Trump’s order to strike the Syrian government targets came a day after he said the chemical attacks — whose grisly effects were broadcast worldwide where videos captured in the immediate aftermath — “crossed a lot of lines for me” and said he felt a “responsibility” to respond.
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Tillerson: No doubt Assad is responsible

Tillerson: No doubt Assad is responsible 01:39
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“I will tell you it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” Trump said.
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“When you kill innocent children — innocent babies — babies — little babies with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line, many, many lines,” Trump said.
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‘Red line’

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Trump’s decision to launch the strikes, the most significant military action of his young presidency, came nearly four years after the US first concluded that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons in Syria.
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The Obama administration concluded that Syria had violated the “red line” Obama had set a year earlier in discussing the use of chemical weapons, but ultimately decided against military action against Syria in favor of a Russian-brokered deal to extricate the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.
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Trump at the time said the US should “stay the hell out of Syria” and urged Obama on Twitter to “not attack Syria” in the wake of the 2013 chemical attack.
“There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day,” he tweeted in September 2013.
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Trump repeatedly criticized Obama during his presidential campaign for not acting on his “red line” threat, but the real estate mogul also argued against deepening the US’ military involvement in Syria, particularly as it related to Assad.
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Trump argued last May in a TV interview that he would “go after ISIS big league,” but said he did not support targeting Assad’s regime, arguing the US has “bigger problems than Assad.”
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Syria’s six-year civil war has claimed the lives of at least 400,000, according to a United Nations estimate released a year ago. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country and more than 6 million more have been displaced internally, according to UN agencies.

2016 rhetoric

But guided by his “America First” ideology and rejection of the US’ propensity for “nation-building,” Trump did not argue in favor of stepped-up US intervention during his campaign for president.
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Instead, he signaled the opposite: He argued that the US should remain laser-focused on defeating ISIS and vowed to try and partner with Russia, which has heartily backed Assad’s regime, in order to defeat ISIS and bring the conflict to an end.
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Those views appeared steeped in his longstanding criticism of the Iraq War, which he called a “stupid” decision, lamenting the billions of dollars funneled toward that war effort instead of on domestic programs, like infrastructure spending.
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While Trump rejected the isolationist label some placed on him during the campaign, he made clear that his preference was for limiting the US footprint around the world and refocusing US foreign policy around core national security interests.
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North Korea: Defector Tells Lester Holt ‘World Should Be Ready’ — Pressure is On Donald Trump

April 4, 2017

NBC News

SEOUL, South Korea — A senior North Korean defector has told NBC News that the country’s “desperate” dictator is prepared to use nuclear weapons to strike the United States and its allies.

Thae Yong Ho is the most high profile North Korean defector in two decades, meaning he is able to give a rare insight into the secretive, authoritarian regime.

According to Thae, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is “desperate in maintaining his rule by relying on his [development of] nuclear weapons and ICBM.” He was using an acronym for intercontinental ballistic missiles — a long range rocket that in theory would be capable of hitting the U.S.

NBC Nightly News Exclusive: Lester Holt anchors from South Korea on Monday and Tuesday, April 3 and 4, at 6:30pm ET.

Lester Holt Speaks with Thae Yong-ho, Former North Korean Diplomat Who Defected 1:55
Video:
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/north-korean-defector-tells-lester-holt-world-should-be-ready-n741901

“Once he sees that there is any kind of sign of a tank or an imminent threat from America, then he would use his nuclear weapons with ICBM,” he added in an exclusive interview on Sunday.

Thae was living in London and serving as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he and his family defected to South Korea and were announced to the world in August.

He was not directly involved in North Korea’s weapons program but believes his country “has reached a very significant level of nuclear development.”

North Korea is estimated to have upward of eight nuclear weapons but has not demonstrated the ability to attach them to a long-range rocket, an ICBM, capable of hitting the U.S.

Analysts are unsure exactly how close the regime is to achieving this aim, but a senior official told NBC News in January that his government was ready to test-fire an ICMB “at any time, at any place.”

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told NBC News that American officials were particularly troubled by this latest threat.

“They have the nuclear capability — they’ve demonstrated that,” he said. “And then, where they’re going with the miniaturization of that, whether they can actually weaponize a missile, that’s what’s driving the current concern.”

PHOTOS: The Tangled History of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

Thae’s interview with NBC News comes against a backdrop of rising tensions surrounding North Korea, which has significantly increased its missile and nuclear tests under Kim’s rule.

Analysis: Will North Korea Be Pres. Trump’s First Global Crisis? 1:50
Video:
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/north-korean-defector-tells-lester-holt-world-should-be-ready-n741901

President Donald Trump told the Financial Times newspaper on Monday that “something had to be done” about North Korea. This came after Defense Secretary James Mattis said the country “has got to be stopped” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said military action was “on the table.”

“It does feel more dangerous — I’ll give you three reasons,” according to Adm. James Stavridis, an NBC News analyst and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “One is [Kim’s] own precarious situation in command of the nation. Number two is the instability in South Korea. We’ve just seen the South Korean president indicted, arrested, and incarcerated.”

“And, number three, a new and more aggressive American foreign policy coming from Washington,” he added.

Image: Lester Holt and Thae Yong Ho
Lester Holt walks with North Korean defector Thae Yong Ho in Seoul. NBC News

Some analysts have warned that military action against the country might be very difficult and even disastrous. An invasion could risk a retaliatory strike against U.S. allies of Japan and South Korea, whose capital, Seoul, is just 50 miles from the border.

Nonetheless, Thae warned America and its allies to be prepared.

“If Kim Jong Un has nuclear weapons and ICBMs, he can do anything,” he said. “So, I think the world should be ready to deal with this kind of person.”

He added that “Kim Jong Un is a man who can do anything beyond the normal imagination” and that “the final and the real solution to the North Korean nuclear issue is to eliminate Kim Jong Un from the post.”

Kim came to power in 2012 and has defined his strongman premiership by the pursuit of a nuclear weapon that can hit the U.S. He has conducted more missile tests than in the rest of the country’s history combined, and three of North Korea’s five nuclear tests came under his watch.

According to Thae, Kim is obsessed with obtaining nukes because he saw what happened to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, both of whom abandoned their countries’ weapons of mass destruction programs and then were overthrown by Western-backed forces.

Many analysts agree that Kim sees a nuclear weapon — and the retaliatory threat it poses — as an insurance policy against a similar strategy being pursued against him.

“That’s why Kim Jong Un strongly believes that only a nuclear weapon can guarantee his rule,” Thae said.

According to the former diplomat, the world should look to Kim’s past actions to see what he is capable of. The young leader has reportedly been responsible for purges and executions of top officials and even members of his own family.

Last month, according to U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials, he masterminded the assassination of his own half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, at an airport in Malaysia.

“Kim Jong Un is a person who did not even hesitate to kill his uncle and a few weeks ago, even his half-brother,” Thae said. “So, he is a man who can do anything to remove [anyone in] his way.”

Image: Kim Jong-Un attends a competition between tank units from the Korean People's Army this year
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends a competition between tank units from the Korean People’s Army this year. KCNA via AFP/Getty Images

Since his defection Thae has been making media appearances and giving talks denouncing North Korea’s controlling and often brutal society. For this reason he believes he could be the next victim.

“I am already a marked man,” he said. “Kim Jong Un wants to eliminate any person or any country which poses a threat to him. And I think I am really a great threat to him.”

Thae was the highest-ranking North Korean official to abandon the regime and enter public life in South Korea since the 1997 defection of Hwang Jang Yop, who was responsible for crafting “Juche” — North Korea’s state ideology, which blends elements of Marxism with ultra-nationalism.

He made the decision to switch sides, he said, after his two sons began asking questions about why North Korea did not allow the internet, why there was no proper legal system and why officials were executed without trial.

His sons also complained they were being mocked by their British friends.

“All of my family members were a little bit frightened, you know, on that day,” he said of the moment he decided to escape. “But I always told them that we have to try to be as peaceful as possible. We should carry the normal faces and normal feelings so that our plan of defection should not be noticed by anyone in the embassy.”

This came at a high price, however. He was able to escape with his wife and children — but he fears his brother and sister in North Korea have been punished for his actions.

“Our freedom here is achieved at the cost of the sacrifice of my family members left in North Korea,” he said. “When a defection of my level happens, the North Korean regime usually sends the family members of high officials, defectors, to remote areas or labor camps and, to some extent, even to political prison camps as well.”

This fate is not unique. More than 100,000 people are believed to have been detained in North Korea’s notorious gulags, where they are subjected to forced labor, torture and executions — treatment the United Nations said was “strikingly similar” to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Families are taken away by the country’s secret police for arbitrary crimes such as “gossiping” about the state.

FROM MARCH 22: North Korea launches 3rd test missile since Trump took office 2:05

This is all part of the dictatorship’s attempt to restrict information reaching North Korean families from the outside world. Most people cannot use the internet or access foreign media — Kim’s attempt to maintain the pretense that his country is prosperous and the Western world is failing.

In all, North Korea “remains one of the most repressive states in the world,” according to Human Rights Watch.

But according to Thae, the mask is slipping. More and more, North Koreans are able to watch South Korean films, giving them a true picture of their far more prosperous neighbor.

“I’m absolutely sure that once North Korean people are educated enough, then they may stand up,” according to the former ambassador. “North Korean population now knows well that South Korea is democratic, the society and economy here are very well.”

This, Thae said, “has already made the North Korean population not believe what the regime has been teaching and has been brainwashing them.”

He added: “I think this is really a great change in people’s mind, because they do not believe in the government’s propaganda system.”

View from South Korea: Lester Holt on Tensions on the Korean Peninsula 1:37

In this shift may even lie the seeds of fundamental change in North Korea, according to Thae.

“I think that is very important. And once the people do not believe in what the leadership is saying, then there is a great possibility for possible uprising: what happened in Soviet Union, what happened in communist system in Eastern Europe,” he said.

“Because when the people in those Eastern European countries knew that the Western Europe were much better than Eastern Europe — the democratic society was much better than communist society and one-party system — all of a sudden people stood up against the system,” he added. “These things could also happen in North Korea.”

Thae said that he and other defectors can play a crucial part removing Kim.

“Every day I am living in order to accelerate the speed of my return home,” he said. “I think defectors like me, we should all unite together to bring down Kim Jong Un’s regime.”

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/north-korean-defector-tells-lester-holt-world-should-be-ready-n741901

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North Korea’s Nuclear Strength, Encapsulated in an Online Ad for Lithium

WASHINGTON — The online ad reads like something only a metallurgist could love: an offer to sell 22 pounds of highly pure lithium 6 every month, set for delivery from the port of Dandong, China.

But it caught the attention of intelligence agencies around the world for a simple reason: Lithium 6 offers a fast way to turn an ordinary atom bomb into a hydrogen bomb, magnifying its destructive power by up to 1,000 times. The seller listed in the ad — who even provided his cellphone number — was identified in a recent United Nations report as the third secretary in the North Korean Embassy in Beijing.

When President Trump meets with President Xi Jinping in Florida this week, administration officials say, his top agenda item will be pressing China to sign on to the most powerful set of economic sanctions ever imposed on North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Mr. Trump has repeatedly vowed to stop the North’s nuclear efforts, telling The Financial Times in an interview published on Sunday: “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all that I am telling you.”

But experts say the offer to sell excess lithium is evidence that North Korea has produced so much of the precious material that it is too late to prevent the nation from becoming an advanced nuclear power.

If that is the case, Mr. Trump may find little success in borrowing from the playbook of the four presidents before him, who fruitlessly tried, with differing mixes of negotiations, sanctions, sabotage and threats of unilateral strikes, to force the North to give up its program. And it remains unclear exactly what the president meant when he said he would “solve” the problem of North Korea.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/us/politics/north-korea-nuclear-trump-china.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

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“North Korea has got to be stopped.” — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Says

March 31, 2017

By Gabe Joselow and Alexander Smith
NBC News

LONDON — After years of North Korea thumbing its nose at the international community, on Friday Defense Secretary James Mattis appeared to signal enough was enough.

“Right now, [North Korea] appears to be going in a very reckless manner … and that has got to be stopped,” Mattis said at a press conference in London.

He didn’t give any details about how the administration of President Donald Trump plans to deal with the reclusive nation, which, under Kim Jong Un, has drastically increased its missile and nuclear-testing program.

But Mattis’ remarks continue a recent trend of Trump officials taking a harder line on North Korea.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the “diplomatic … efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of de-nuclearization have failed.”

He also said that military action was “on the table.”

Many experts say that Trump’s options are limited, however.

Kim has pledged to develop a weapons capable of striking the U.S. and its allies. Three of the country’s nuclear tests were completed under his rule and he conducted more missile tests over the past four years than in the rest of the country’s history.

Trump could try to levy more sanctions on the country, although these have not stopped previous tests and Tillerson appeared to dismiss this approach earlier this month.

But a full-scale invasion would be unlikely — not to mention extremely difficult — according to U.S. Army strategist Maj. ML Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh wrote an article in the Modern War Institute at West Point, which is a research center of the United States Military Academy, warning of North Korea’s tough, “Afghanistan-like geography” and an army that could act like “a much better-trained, much better-armed version of the Taliban.”

An American invasion would also carry the risk of a retaliatory missile strike against America’s allies, South Korea and Japan. The South Korean capital of Seoul, with its population of 10 million, is just 50 miles from its border with the North.

FROM MARCH 22: North Korea launches 3rd test missile since Trump took office 2:05
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Netanyahu Visits U.S. Amid National Security Council’s “Dysfunction” — Michael Flynn Was the Point Man for Netanyahu Meeting with President Trump

February 15, 2017
BY
FEBRUARY 14, 2017 22:05
The Jerusalem Post
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Michael Flynn, point person for Netanyahu visit, resigns amid scandal.

US security aide Flynn quits over Russia links (credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – Efforts to synchronize US and Israeli policy on Iran ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week were spearheaded by Michael Flynn, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, who had planned to usher both leaders through a critical discussion over the country’s nuclear program in the Oval Office.

Flynn was the president’s “point person” for the meeting, according to Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, who described Netanyahu’s visit as a “big week” for the new national security adviser.

But the tight structure that is typically characteristic of a meeting between two heads of government was thrown into uncertainty just one day before Netanyahu’s scheduled visit, when Flynn resigned in disgrace shortly after Netanyahu landed in Washington.

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Flynn was asked to step down after US media reported he had lied to Trump administration colleagues about the nature of a phone conversation he held with Russia’s ambassador to Washington in December. After he claimed for weeks the phone call was merely meant to relay holiday greetings, US intelligence agencies revealed the call had in fact included reassurances from Flynn that Trump, once in office, could ease sanctions on Russia leveled by the Obama administration over Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump and his team were informed that transcripts of the call existed weeks before the story was leaked to The Washington Post. The White House acted only after the story went public.

Republican leaders – including the Senate’s second-highest ranking member, John Cornyn of Texas – are expressing serious concern.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Flynn’s resignation was “a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus,” and several of his colleagues joined him in calling for a congressional investigation into the Trump administration’s ties with the Kremlin.

Netanyahu will be the first foreign leader to experience the National Security Council’s dysfunction firsthand. He enters Wednesday’s meetings hoping to secure assurances from Trump that he will act more aggressively than his predecessor to counter Iran’s malign activities. He also plans to discuss the longterm dangers built in to an international deal governing Iran’s nuclear program.

The Israeli premier hopes to establish redlines for what Iranian actions would trigger US counteractions, such as additional sanctions.

In his short time at the White House, Flynn led the administration’s effort to coordinate policy with Israel on Iran. His one and only public appearance was to put Iran “on notice” on February 1 over its continued testing of ballistic missiles and its supporting of Houthi rebels in Yemen.

But Flynn enjoyed consensus in the Trump administration on Iran, and the policies he was pursuing are likely to continue on under the direction of the rest of Trump’s team, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Trump on Tuesday named Lt.-Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg, Jr. as his acting national security adviser, and is considering several current and former military men to permanently fill the post. Reportedly leading the pack is Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL and deputy chief of the United States Central Command, who is fluent in Farsi.

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http://www.jpost.com/American-Politics/Israel-talks-Iran-with-a-national-security-team-in-disarray-481555
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Germany says U.S. demand for more NATO burden-sharing is ‘fair’

February 10, 2017
By Sabine Siebold | WASHINGTON

The U.S. call for NATO partners to step up funding for the transatlantic alliance is “a fair demand”, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday after what she called a positive first meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Germany and other European powers were unnerved when Donald Trump accused NATO allies during his presidential campaign of failing to pay their way, and described the alliance shortly before he took office last month as ‘obsolete’.

He offered some reassurance this week when he told U.S. forces: “We strongly support NATO.”

Von der Leyen said Germany, which spends less than the NATO target of 2 percent of economic output on defense, understood it needed to increase that.

“I think it’s a fair demand,” von der Leyen said. “If we want to jointly master the crises in the world, namely the fight against terrorism, and also put the alliance on solid footing, then everyone has to pay their share.”

She told reporters she welcomed an offer from Mattis to deepen the strategic dialogue between the two countries. He had also reiterated his clear and deep commitment to NATO.

Admiring comments from Trump about Russian President Vladimir Putin have raised concerns among some European countries that the United States might relax sanctions imposed against Moscow over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for violent separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Von der Leyen said it was critical that NATO members remained unified. “It is … very important that we speak with one voice.”

She said she and Mattis agreed that many global problems, including the war in Syria, could not be solved without Russia, but Moscow needed to respect international law and the borders of other sovereign countries.

They had agreed it was important to “continue to act from a position of strength to extend an outstretched hand to Russia and work out our mutual problems at the negotiating table and then solve them.”

Von der Leyen’s meeting with Mattis lasted for about an hour, twice as long as planned. She was the first European defense minister to visit him at the Pentagon.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Reuters TV; Writing by Andrea Shalal; editing by Erik Kirschbaum and Mark Trevelyan)