Posts Tagged ‘Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’

As ISIS Recedes, U.S. Steps Up Focus on Iran — Trump administration is retooling its strategy in the Mideast

December 14, 2017

Trump administration is retooling its strategy in the Mideast

Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, the head of Iran’s elite expeditionary Quds Force, was sent a warning last month by CIA chief Mike Pompeo that he would be held responsible for any attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq by forces under Iranian control. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—As the U.S. military campaign against Islamic State winds down in the Middle East, the Trump administration is turning its focus to what it sees as a bigger threat: Iran.

U.S. officials are wrestling with where and how to repel what they describe as a significant Iranian military expansion across the region, a development of increasing concern in Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh.

“Our leadership has set as an objective not to allow Iran and its proxies to be able to establish a presence in Syria that they can use to threaten our allies or us in the region,” one senior U.S. administration official said. “There are different ways to implement that, and we are still working through them.”

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, is considering giving a policy speech on Syria early next year that would outline the new administration strategy, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Iran's army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking through binoculars on a visit to the front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria.
Iran’s army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking through binoculars on a visit to the front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. PHOTO: SYRIAN CENTRAL MILITARY MEDIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

One major issue the Trump administration has to address is whether to make confronting Iran an explicit new goal for the more than 2,000 American forces currently in Syria.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said troops will remain in the country for the foreseeable future to ensure that Islamic State doesn’t regain a foothold or its remnants don’t morph into a dangerous new threat.

But those troops could also be placed at the forefront of a new effort to prevent Iran from cementing its military presence in Syria or establishing a secure route across the country that would allow Tehran to easily ferry advanced weapons to allies on Israel’s border, according to U.S. officials and others familiar with the continuing discussions.

“The military presence in Syria increasingly should be the center of gravity for an Iranian neutralization strategy,” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank with close ties to the Trump administration. “There’s no political leverage without American military power on the ground.”

Iran has castigated the U.S. for its Mideast presence, saying Washington is backing terrorists fighting against the Syrian regime. Iran didn’t respond to a request for comment on the U.S. shift.

While Mr. Trump sketched out a broad plan in October for combating Iran’s influence, the U.S. military has been focused on eliminating Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq. That project, U.S. officials concede, has allowed Iran to increase its influence, especially in Syria. Administration officials estimate that Tehran and its allies now provide 80% of the fighters for President Bashar al-Assad’s depleted regime there. By some estimates, there are 125,000 Iranian forces currently in Syria.

Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said he told Gen. Soleimani that he would hold him and Iran ‘accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control.’
Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said he told Gen. Soleimani that he would hold him and Iran ‘accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control.’ PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Turning the focus from Islamic State to Iran would come with a litany of challenges, including concerns about triggering a deadly backlash from Iran targeting American forces in the region.

That prospect is a paramount concern to U.S. military officials, especially those who fought in Iraq a decade ago and remember the deadly effect Iranian-supplied explosives had on U.S. forces in the country.

To hammer home that disquiet, Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo sent a private warning last month to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite expeditionary Quds Force. In the letter, Mr. Pompeo said recently, the U.S. warned Gen. Soleimani that the administration “will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control.”

Iran’s state-media revealed the existence of the letter and said a CIA operative tried to hand-deliver it to Gen. Soleimani while he was visiting the embattled Syrian town of Abu Kamal, close to the border with Iraq. Mr. Soleimani refused to open the letter, according to Mr. Pompeo and Iranian media.

The Trump administration has already shown its willingness to directly confront Iran in Syria. Over the summer, the U.S. military shot down two armed Iranian drones flying near American forces operating in southern Syria. Though tensions quickly cooled afterward, the incidents showed how serious confrontations in Syria could become.

Gen. McMaster has made it clear in recent days that the U.S. is crafting ways to contain that threat in Syria.

“What we face is the prospect of Iran having a proxy army on the borders of Israel,” he said at a public forum earlier this month.

American and Israeli officials are especially troubled about intelligence suggesting that Iran is establishing a military facility in northwestern Syria to make long-range missiles. Israel has carried out more than 100 airstrikes in Syria, most of them aimed at what it says are convoys ferrying weapons to Hezbollah fighters.

After the most recent airstrike on an Iranian military base near Damascus in early December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country would “not allow a regime hellbent on the annihilation of the Jewish state…to entrench itself militarily in Syria.”

The Trump administration is seeking ways to prevent the Syrian war from transforming into a new regional conflict between Israel and Iran. The U.S. and its allies are trying to use the expansion of de-escalation zones in Syria to halt Iran’s expansion along the borders with Israel and Jordan. But critics say the agreements have actually shored up Iran’s gains and undercut the goals.

Appeared in the December 14, 2017, print edition as ‘As ISIS Fades, a New Focus on Iran.’

Mattis Says Boeing Working to Fix Tanker Woes, Meet Commitments

December 3, 2017


By Anthony Capaccio

  • Boeing, Air Force, DoD ‘aligned’ on program, secretary says
  • Mattis ‘very, very comfortable’ program on the right track

Boeing Co. “has been excellent” working with the U.S. Air Force to fix as many as three potential deficiencies with its new $44.5 billion aerial-refueling tanker, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.

Jim Mattis

Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

Mattis in early October asked his staff to get background information on the three potential or demonstrated deficiencies after reading a press account about how the Air Force was addressing the issues. Bloomberg News reported Friday that in a note to his staff, Mattis said he was “unwilling, (totally)” to accept KC-46 tankers that didn’t meet all contract specifications.

 Image result for KC-46 tankers, photos
KC-46 Tanker

“I reinforced that the Air Force was not going to accept tankers that weren’t completely compliant with the contract,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Kuwait on Sunday during a Middle East trip. “Boeing has been excellent” and hasn’t given any “push-back” on its commitment, Mattis said.

“They are working to fix things” and Boeing, the Air Force and Pentagon acquisition officials “are all aligned on it,” he said.

The most serious of three recent flaws with the tanker is multiple instances of its retractable boom scraping aircraft receiving fuel in mid-air. The KC-46’s schedule already has slipped because of earlier technical problems, including with its wiring. Delivery of the first 18 tankers, which was supposed to be completed by August of this year, is now expected by October 2018.

Delays UnknownThe Air Force has said it doesn’t know to what extent, if any, aircraft deliveries will be further delayed by the refueling concerns.

Boeing has absorbed cost overruns exceeding the Air Force’s $4.82 billion liability cap in the tanker’s development phase, and the plane has drawn praise from Pentagon officials and the Government Accountability Office.

Responding to the note from Mattis, Undersecretary for Acquisition Ellen Lord also praised Air Force management in an Oct. 4 memo.

“Throughout the execution of the contract, the Air Force has held, and will continue to hold, Boeing accountable to all KC-46 contractual requirements,” Lord wrote. “If system performance is non-compliant and merits correction, the Air Force will hold Boeing accountable — potentially via additional monetary penalties until corrected at their cost.”

Image result for K-46 tanker, seen from aircraft being fueled, photos

KC-46 Pegasus Tanker — seen from the vantage point of the aircraft being fueled…

‘Tankers Done Right’Lord, the Defense Department’s chief weapons buyer, wrote that two of the three potential “Category 1” deficiencies “have a clear path forward” for a resolution. The problem with the boom scraping planes was “still under investigation,” as the service planned to start testing last month, according to Lord.

“We need the tankers, but I want the tankers done right,” Mattis said on Sunday. “The Air Force needs tankers done right. The American taxpayer expects tankers done right, and Boeing is committed to tankers that are done right.

“This is a team effort, and I’m very, very comfortable that we’re on the right track,” he said. “We’ll get there, and it’ll be the best tanker in the world.”

Russia, Iran, Turkey to Meet Over Syria Amid Tensions With U.S.

November 16, 2017


By Henry Meyer and  Taylan Bilgic

  • Putin, Erdogan, Rouhani to discuss Syrian conflict in Sochi
  • Russia accuses U.S. of maintaining ‘occupying force’ in Syria
U.S. forces accompany Kurdish fighters near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah in April.

Photographer: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

Russia, Turkey and Iran hold summit talks on Syria next week as Ankara threatens a possible attack on U.S.-allied Kurdish forces and tensions rise between Moscow and Washington over the future of the war-torn state.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host his Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani, on Nov. 22 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss Syria and regional developments, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news service said Thursday. The three powers are key players in Syria, where they’ve spearheaded a cease-fire initiative and are now cooperating on a political settlement.

As the battle to defeat Islamic State nears its end, Russia is stepping up criticism of U.S. military involvement in Syria after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this week that American forces could stay on to ensure a political transition in the country. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday branded the U.S.-led coalition as “practically occupying forces” because they’re operating in Syria without the agreement of the government in Damascus.

Putin, whose military campaign in Syria since 2015 has reversed the course of the civil war and shored up his ally, President Bashar al-Assad, is at odds with U.S. policy that calls for the Syrian leader to leave power eventually as part of any peace agreement. Iran is also a major supporter of Assad, deploying troops and sending Iranian-backed militias to fight in Syria against opposition forces.

‘Joint Steps’

Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in a joint statement at last week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam to support a political reconciliation in Syria with the participation of Assad. The U.S. doesn’t see a future for Assad in Syria at the end of the process, a State Department official said.

Turkey, which backed rebels seeking to overthrow Assad, warned this week that it may undertake a military operation against Kurdish forces in the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin, who are allied with the U.S. against Islamic State. ‘We’ve discussed joint steps with Russia,” Erdogan said before flying to Sochi on Monday for talks with Putin.

Turkish relations with Russia plunged into crisis after its air force downed a Russian fighter plane on the Syrian border in November 2015. The two countries have since repaired ties and have grown increasingly close, with Putin and Erdogan meeting five times already this year.

— With assistance by Selcan Hacaoglu, and Ilya Arkhipov

Pentagon mulls amplified Africa role to counter IS group — “The war is morphing. We’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less.”

October 24, 2017


© Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America/AFP | General Joseph Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the media on the recent military operations in Niger, at the Pentagon on October 23, 2017 in Arlington, Virginia.


Latest update : 2017-10-24

The United States is considering a stepped-up military presence in Africa to pursue Islamic State group jihadists looking for new havens after the fall of their “caliphate,” American officials say.

After IS lost its de facto capital Raqa in Syria this month, and its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul earlier, the group “has aspirations to establish a larger presence” in Africa, the US military’s top officer General Joseph Dunford said on Monday.

From Libya to Egypt‘s Sinai, to East Africa and West Africa the jihadists have already posed a threat, Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a press conference.

He was discussing the October 4 clash in Niger, West Africa, that cost the lives of four American soldiers.

Chairman of @thejointstaff, Gen. Joe Dunford, briefed the media on recent military operations in Niger today at the .

Along with five Nigerien troops, the US soldiers died on the Niger-Mali border in an attack carried out by locals associated with IS, according to Dunford.

The incident shocked many Americans unaware of the hundreds-strong US military presence in that country.

Dunford said the military will make recommendations to President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “for the allocation of forces that meet what we see as the threat, what we anticipate the threat to be.”

On Tuesday he meets military chiefs from 75 countries “to talk about the next phase of the campaign” against IS.

Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Mattis last Friday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, said bluntly: “The war is morphing. We’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less.”

After the Middle East, Africa already has the greatest presence of American special forces. Official figures show more than 1,300 of the troops are deployed there.

These elite units train local forces in counter-terrorism and “will only accompany those forces when the prospects of enemy contact is unlikely,” Dunford said.

These rules of engagement “are going to change when it comes to counterterrorism operations,” Graham said.

He hinted that American troops would be authorized to shoot first on “terrorist” targets, which is not the case now.

A growing threat

The European Union‘s presidency also warned this month that countries in that bloc must monitor “very carefully” a growing IS threat in North Africa, where fighters have relocated.

Dunford said the war is moving to multiple arenas.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to say it’s shifting just to Africa. We’re dealing with a challenge that exists from West Africa to Southeast Asia,” he said.

“I believe ISIS will attempt to establish a physical presence outside of Iraq and Syria” after losing Mosul and Raqa, the general added, using another acronym for IS.

“That’s exactly why we’re conducting the kinds of operations we’re conducting in Niger, to ensure that local forces have the capability to prevent that from happening.”

The US supports with aerial refueling and intelligence France’s Operation Barkhane against jihadists in five Sahel nations: MauritaniaMaliChad, Niger and Burkina Faso.

In all, the US military has about 6,000 personnel in 53 African countries, Dunford said.

According to a report to Congress by General Thomas Waldhauser, who heads the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), the American presence is notable in Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya.

The numbers of US special forces varies but the Niger contingent of about 800 is currently the largest in any one country on the continent.

Dunford vowed the US will remain, despite the four fatalities in Niger.

“Our intent is to continue operations there,” Dunford said.

Tillerson Balances Trump’s Goals With His Own

October 20, 2017

In interview, secretary of state reflects on his role in administration, warns China on trade and territory

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described how he seeks to manage an often-fraught relationship with President Donald Trump, saying he tries to deliver short-term victories to an impatient commander-in-chief while focusing on a longer horizon himself.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday, Mr. Tillerson acknowledged the contrasting styles of the two men and described his effort to bridge the gaps, while rejecting swirling rumors of his impending departure. “I see those differences in how we think,” Mr. Tillerson said in his State Department office. “Most of the things he would do would be done on very short time frames. Everything I spent my life doing was done on 10- to 20-year time frames, so I am quite comfortable thinking in those terms.”

His solution: “Delivering the incremental wins,” he said. “Incremental progress is taking you toward the ultimate objective, which is, as I say is eight, 10 years down the road.”

Mr. Tillerson said one of his top long-term priorities is shifting the balance of the trade and national-security relationship with China, even as he adopted Mr. Trump’s stern tone on Asia’s economic power.

On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson warned China that the U.S. has an arsenal of economic weapons to force Beijing to address trade imbalances and a continuing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

“We can do this one of two ways,” Mr. Tillerson said during the interview, seeming at times to speak directly to his Chinese counterparts. “We can do it cooperatively and collaboratively, or we can do it by taking actions and letting you react to that.”

Tools he might apply include tariffs, World Trade Organization actions, quotas and other mechanisms, he said.

The president and Mr. Tillerson are scheduled in November to visit Asia for a 10-day trip through five countries, including China, where the two former businessmen—both first-time public office holders—will push these issues.

Mr. Tillerson said the race to stem North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as trade issues with Japan and South Korea, will also dominate the trip. His tough talk on China came as the country’s leaders are meeting at the Communist Party Congress, a summit that takes place every five years.


  • Tillerson to Travel to Mideast, South Asia Next Week

In a response to Mr. Tillerson’s recent tough talk, the Chinese Embassy in Washington on Wednesday released a statement. “Through dialogue and cooperation with the countries in the region, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable. Countries outside the region should fully respect these efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability,” it said.

“The track record demonstrates that China and the U.S. are better together. We hope the U.S. side can work in the same direction with China to ensure the healthy and sound development of the China-U.S. relationship,” the statement continued.

Mr. Tillerson’s comments follow a rocky summer in his relationship with Mr. Trump. Signs of tension between them have continued to overshadow the insistence from both men that all is well.

“If I were a world leader—doesn’t matter who—I wouldn’t talk to Tillerson,” said Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, citing the public divide between the two men. “The president must feel that this person can do the work for him…this is not the case here. It’s becoming antagonistic.”

During a meeting at the Pentagon one weekend in July, Mr. Tillerson rolled his eyes as he reluctantly acquiesced to the president’s criticism of the Iran nuclear pact. “It’s your deal,” Mr. Tillerson said in his Texas drawl as he peered in the direction of other cabinet officials, instead of Mr. Trump.

After that meeting, Mr. Tillerson referred to the president as a “moron,” according to people familiar with the conversations. Mr. Tillerson’s spokeswoman has denied he made the remark.

Mr. Trump has also disparaged his top diplomat, complaining that Mr. Tillerson doesn’t understand his “Make America Great” philosophy and has few original thoughts. “Totally establishment in his thinking,” he has told aides.

Asked Thursday if he believed Mr. Trump should be re-elected, Mr. Tillerson paused for a beat, then said, “Well, of course.”

“I mean, I don’t think about it, quite frankly, right now,” he said. “We’ve got these things we’re dealing with, but yeah.”

Early on in the administration, Messrs. Trump and Tillerson seemed to have an easy rapport. They are both successful businessmen, and Mr. Tillerson’s global experience as the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. was a major appeal for the new president as he put his cabinet together.

When they first arrived in their new jobs and their wives had yet to join them in Washington, they often ate dinner together, joined by a combination of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ; John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff; and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While those dinners have largely stopped, Mr. Tillerson and the president continue to meet, as they did in the Oval Office on Thursday, in what was at least their second meeting this week. In what a State Department spokeswoman described as a “positive,” they had lunch together earlier this month after initial reports of name-calling between them.

Mr. Tillerson’s openness to speaking to reporters comes after he was prompted to hold a news conference to address rumors that he was on the verge of quitting and had made derogatory remarks about the president. On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson expressed confusion about rumors of his departure. “Who in the world is telling you that stuff?,” he said.

He said he would remain in the job “as long as the president thinks I’m useful.”

The secretary pointed to successes on strengthening capabilities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, particularly on counterterrorism, a peaceful pressure campaign on North Korea, the campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the administration’s approach to South Asia.

“Look, I’m my own person, I’m a serious person,” Mr. Tillerson said. “And I’m not of any use to the president if I’m not that. If I try to be anything other than that, I’m no use to him.”

Mr. Tillerson said Thursday he likes to view foreign-policy problems according to region.

“I believe you solve a problem in Afghanistan not by just dealing with Afghanistan,” he said. “You solve it by solving a regional problem, and that’s the way we’re looking at the Middle East.”

He has honed that approach in brainstorming sessions that have evolved over his time at Foggy Bottom. In his first months in office, Mr. Tillerson and a small circle of aides convened weekend sessions during which they kicked around policy approaches by sketching ideas on a white board. Those sessions are now twice a week, sometimes on Saturdays when convenient, and include career state department officials, an official said.

The Texas oilman turned chief diplomat said he spends the bulk of his time concentrating on North Korea, Iran, counterterrorism, China and Russia.

Noting that U.S. and China officials have long been able to negotiate their differences peacefully, he repeatedly said China “went too far” in its push to claim resources in the South China Sea, one of the most ​important trade arteries for the world’s largest economies.

“Our view is you’re going to have to walk some of that back,” he said.

Mr. Tillerson said the Trump administration is seeking agreement on a code of conduct in the region, noting that other countries “are guilty of having done the same thing to a lesser extent” as China. He said the Philippines is looking for “mutually agreeable ways” to share disputed areas without conflict.

“Look, some things have gotten out of whack,” Mr. Tillerson said about U.S.-China relations. “We’ve got to address them.”

Write to Michael C. Bender at and Felicia Schwartz at

Pentagon Takes Control of F-35 Cost-Cutting Push

October 8, 2017

The price of the combat jet has been falling, but some military chiefs are concerned about the pace and source of savings

Image result for F-35, photos

The Pentagon has taken over an effort to cut the cost of the F-35 combat jet, after rejecting plans proposed by Lockheed Martin Corp. and its partners, as it tries to make a program estimated to cost $400 billion more affordable.

The U.S. plans to buy more than 2,400 of the jets over the next three decades to replace much of its combat fleet. But after years of delays and overruns drew flak from lawmakers and Donald Trump, the military has been pressing suppliers to reduce the cost of producing and flying the F-35.

The aircraft’s sticker price has fallen in recent sales to the U.S. and other countries, in part because of a contractor-led effort launched in 2014 called the Blueprint for Affordability that invested $170 million to make the jets cheaper to produce.

Lockheed and the Pentagon announced plans in July 2016 to continue the program, with the company and partners Northrop Grumman Corp. and BAE Systems PLC investing another $170 million over three years in cost-saving measures. The contractors said the initial plan saved $230 million and could be worth $4 billion over the life of the program.

Some military chiefs, however, have expressed concern about the pace and source of savings. In January, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also ordered a review of the high-profile program.

The Pentagon opted this summer not to press ahead with the extension and instead last month gave Maryland-based Lockheed a $60 million contract to pursue further efficiency measures, with more oversight of how the money was spent.

“Using a contract vehicle instead of an agreement with industry provides the government with greater insights into the cost savings efforts,” said the F-35 program office, led since May by Navy Rear Adm. Mat Winter.

A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II flies over Estonia in April. The U.S. plans to buy more than 2,400 of the jets over the next three decades to replace much of its combat fleet. Photo: Christine Groening/ZUMA Press

The F-35 leadership say they want more of the cost-saving effort directed at smaller suppliers that haven’t been pressured enough. A quarter of the initial $60 million is earmarked for projects outside the main three contractors. The Pentagon said it may boost its investment to $170 million if the initial efforts yield e nough savings.

Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp. that makes the engines for the F-35, is continuing a separate effort to reduce costs.

The Pentagon has also yet to approve a plan announced last year for the three main companies to spend $250 million over five years to shave 10% off the running costs of the F-35 fleet over its lifetime, which are estimated to be more than $1.1 trillion for the U.S. aircraft. Allies plan to buy another 500 jets.

That huge bill led the Pentagon to consult with logistics experts at companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to find potential savings. President Trump, who frequently criticized the F-35 on the campaign trail and before taking office, also held multiple direct discussions with Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson.

The company has pledged to aggressively drive down the costs of the F-35 program, which is central to its growth and already delivers almost a quarter of its sales.

Lockheed said the new arrangement won’t affect those efforts, even as the efficiency drive has been hampered by the Air Force cutting its planned annual procurement to around 60 jets from 80.

“The government’s decision to fund this next phase of cost-reduction initiatives is a testament to their confidence in our ability to deliver the cost savings, based on the success of the original Blueprint for Affordability projects,” said Jeff Babione, Lockheed’s F-35 general manager.

The latest cost-saving push is part of a plan to reduce the price of the F-35A model—the plane used by the U.S. Air Force and most overseas allies—to around $80 million by 2020, after adjusting for inflation. Officials estimated that 75% of the target is tied to efficiencies gained from higher output, with the balance coming from efforts like the Blueprint for Affordability program.

Lockheed is currently negotiating a deal with the Pentagon for an 11th batch of jets, which it hopes to conclude by the end of the year. The last sale, agreed on in January, priced the F-35A at $94.6 million each, a 7.3% drop from the previous batch. That price was broadly in line with the Pentagon’s price target before Mr. Trump took aim at the program.

However, critics say the claimed prices don’t capture the full cost of the jets once additional modifications, added later, are included.

“There’s very little transparency about it,” said Dan Grazier, of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog.

Iran nuclear deal should be preserved: Russia

October 6, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

ASTANA (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday he hoped U.S. President Donald Trump would make a “balanced” decision on whether to remain engaged in the international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

“It is very important to preserve it in its current form and of course the participation of the United States will be a very significant factor in this regard,” Lavrov told reporters on a visit to Kazakhstan.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear program in return for lifting most international sanctions that had crippled its economy.

Trump is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the deal, a senior White House official said on Thursday, in a step that potentially could cause the 2015 accord to unravel.

Trump, who has called the pact an “embarrassment” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”, has been weighing whether it serves U.S. security interests as he faces an Oct. 15 deadline for certifying that Iran is complying with its terms.

If Trump declines to certify Iran’s compliance, U.S. congressional leaders would have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Tehran suspended under the agreement.

US military halts exercises over Qatar crisis

October 6, 2017

By Jon Gambrill

The Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. military has halted some exercises with its Gulf Arab allies over the ongoing diplomatic crisis targeting Qatar, trying to use its influence to end the months-long dispute, authorities told The Associated Press on Friday.

While offering few details, the acknowledgement by the U.S. military’s Central Command shows the concern it has over the conflict gripping the Gulf, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and crucial bases for its campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, as well as the war in Afghanistan.

The Qatar crisis began June 5, when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched an economic boycott while closing off the energy-rich nation’s land border and its air and sea routes. The quartet of Arab nations pointed to Qatar’s alleged support of extremists and overly warm ties to Iran. Qatar long has denied supporting extremists and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran that makes its citizens have the highest per-capita income in the world.

Initially, U.S. military officials said the boycott and dispute had no impact on their operations. Qatar is home to the massive al-Udeid Air Base, the forward headquarters of Central Command which oversees the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing campaign of the Islamic State group and manages a direct line to Russia to manage Syria’s crowded skies.

But as the dispute went on, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis traveled to Doha to offer his support. The Trump administration also agreed to an in-the-works sale of F-15 fighter jets to Qatar for $12 billion.

Responding to queries from the AP, Air Force Col. John Thomas, a Central Command spokesman, acknowledged it would be cutting back on the exercises.

“We are opting out of some military exercises out of respect for the concept of inclusiveness and shared regional interests,” Thomas said in a statement. “We will continue to encourage all partners to work together toward the sort of common solutions that enable security and stability in the region.”

Officials in Qatar did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the boycotting nations have not acknowledged the disruption in military exercises with the U.S.

The Qatar diplomatic crisis has torn apart the typically clubby Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional Arab bloc created in part as a counterbalance to Iran. The U.S. military holds exercises in part to build the confidence of local forces, many of which use American-made equipment.

Among the exercises likely to be affected is Eagle Resolve, an annual exercise held since 1999 that has GCC countries send forces alongside Americans to simulate working as a multinational force in battle. This year’s Eagle Resolve exercise, held in Kuwait in March, involved 1,000 U.S. troops.

U.S. and Gulf allies have regularly held joint, smaller-scale exercises in the region.


Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at His work can be found at

Trump Expected to Refuse to Certify Iran’s Compliance With Nuclear Deal

October 6, 2017

Move would place key decisions about the deal’s future before Congress

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump is expected to refuse to certify that Tehran is complying with the 2015 international nuclear agreement, as part of a broader policy change on Iran to be set out as early as next week, people familiar with the deliberations said.

That move would place key decisions about the future of the nuclear deal before Congress, which could move to reinstate sanctions under an expedited 60-day review process.

However, Congress may choose not to, people familiar with the discussions have said, as such a step could lead to the agreement’s collapse. Reimposing sanctions would be considered a breach of the accord’s provisions requiring sanctions to be lifted as long as Iran is deemed to be in compliance by international consensus.

If Congress doesn’t take action, the outcome of the administration’s approach may be to accuse Iran of failing to comply with the agreement while leaving the deal in place.

A senior administration official said Mr. Trump has decided on a strategy to confront Iran’s ballistic-missile development, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s shipping of weapons as well Iranian behavior that the administration believes destabilizes the region. But the president hasn’t made a final decision on whether to decertify Iran’s compliance, and if so, under what grounds, the senior official said.

His national security team completed a monthslong policy review in September and Mr. Trump approved it, the official said.

Other people familiar with the deliberations expect Mr. Trump will refuse to certify that Iran is complying with the agreement, although they note that the administration is known for changing policy directions.

Mr. Trump, speaking on Thursday ahead of a briefing with senior military leaders at the White House, said Iran had “not lived up to the spirit” of the nuclear deal and added, “You will be hearing about Iran very shortly.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that Mr. Trump has decided on the certification issue “and he’ll make that announcement at the appropriate time.” The president told reporters last month during United Nations General Assembly meetings that he had made a decision, but he didn’t divulge it. He also didn’t share his decision with either French President Macron or U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, officials said.

Mr. Trump is expected to deliver a speech in the next week or two to outline the broader Iran strategy, although officials said planning was preliminary and could change.

“The main focus that he has had has been a comprehensive strategy on how to deal with Iran,” Ms. Sanders said. “I think you will see that announced in short order. And that will be a comprehensive strategy, with a unified team behind him supporting that effort.”

Mr. Trump has called the accord “the worst deal ever” and told The Wall Street Journal in July that he planned to tell Congress that Iran isn’t complying, even if doing so meant going against the advice of his advisers. Many of Mr. Trump’s cabinet advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and others support staying with the deal. They advised Mr. Trump to certify the deal as the policy review was under way.

Mr. Tillerson and National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster briefed European officials at the U.N. General Assembly that they are seeking to amend U.S. legislation that requires the compliance certification every 90 days. The possible amendment would scrap or extend the certification requirement so that Mr. Trump isn’t forced to say every 90 days whether Iran is complying with the deal, an irritant for the president, officials have said.

Administration officials were working with lawmakers on the legislation this week, officials said.

The law was passed during the Obama administration “and it was tailored for the Obama administration,” Brian Hook, a senior aide to Mr. Tillerson, told reporters in September. “This is a new administration that is undertaking a broad approach to Iran’s range of threats and the certification or noncertification is a conversation between the president and the Congress.”

Ambassadors from the European Union, France, Germany and the U.K. have been visiting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers this week, urging them not to take legislative steps that would threaten the nuclear deal, a Western diplomat said. Their pitch, the diplomat said, is to stress that the nuclear deal is working and that Europe is prepared to discuss other issues concerning Iran outside the deal.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said that he is willing to open negotiations on other issues, such as Iran’s ballistic missiles. Other European officials are on board with that idea too, so long as such conversations don’t involve reopening the accord itself.

Conservative U.S. lawmakers have signaled that they are prepared to avoid sinking the deal right away as the administration looks for ways to address its concerns about it.

“I’m not necessarily saying that Congress should impose sanctions in that 60-day window,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said Tuesday at a Washington think tank appearance, referring to the process triggered by a presidential refusal certify Iran’s compliance with the deal. “We need a new and broader approach that looks at fixing the problems with the deal and confronting Iran’s campaign for imperial aggression in the region.”

Write to Felicia Schwartz at

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President Donald Trump a Cabinet meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left), Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (right), and others. Photo credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images. FILE photo

Trump Not Expected to Certify Iranian Compliance with the Nuclear Deal


Trump Is Expected to ‘Decertify’ the Iran Deal and Let Congress Deal With the Fallout

WASHINGTON — President Trump is expected to overrule his top national security advisers and decline to certify the Iran nuclear agreement, according to people who have been briefed on the matter, a decision that would reopen a volatile political debate on Iran but is likely to leave in place the landmark deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

By declining to certify Iran’s compliance, Mr. Trump would essentially kick it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose punitive economic sanctions. Even among Republicans, there appears to be little appetite to do that, at least for now.

Still, Mr. Trump’s expected move would allow him to tell supporters that he had disavowed the accord, while bowing to the reality that the United States would isolate itself from its allies if it sabotaged a deal with which Iran is viewed as complying. Mr. Trump repeatedly ridiculed the accord during the 2016 presidential campaign, vowing to rip it up.

White House officials cautioned that the president had not yet formally decided to “decertify” the agreement. But he faces an Oct. 15 deadline, and he has made little secret of his intentions, most recently when he declared at the United Nations two weeks ago that the agreement was “embarrassing to the United States.”

Mr. Trump will present his decision on the deal as part of a broader American strategy to crack down on Iran for its ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions throughout the Middle East. Administration officials said he had signed off on the overall approach and hoped he would present it before the deadline.

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European Envoys Take Fight for Iran Nuclear Deal to U.S. Congress

October 5, 2017

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As Congress faces a possible fight over the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, European ambassadors and officials from President Barack Obama’s administration are making their case for preserving the pact directly to U.S. lawmakers.

The British, French, German and European Union ambassadors to the United States will participate later on Wednesday in a meeting on Capitol Hill with Democratic senators organized by the Senate’s number two Democrat, Richard Durbin, congressional aides and embassy officials told Reuters.

Former Undersecretary of State and lead Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman will also attend and former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will participate via videolink, an aide to Durbin and another congressional aide said.

The meeting is part of an ongoing effort by Democrats in Congress and other officials who support the nuclear pact to bolster support for the deal by spelling out the consequences of its collapse as Republican President Donald Trump faces an Oct. 15 deadline for certifying the agreement or placing its fate in the hands of Congress.

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [File: AP]

A British embassy official said Ambassador Kim Darroch was in Congress on Wednesday with his French, German and EU counterparts meeting with both Democrats and Republicans “to provide information on the European position on the JCPOA,” using an acronym for the nuclear agreement.

An EU embassy spokesman confirmed that EU Ambassador David O’Sullivan and others would attend, to explain that the deal is a multilateral agreement that is working and that the European Union will do everything it can to ensure it stays in place.

Trump has long criticized the nuclear pact, a signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor Obama, and signed in 2015 by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and Iran.

Senior White House officials have said that Trump is leaning toward a course of action that could lead to the United States abandoning the pact, despite apparent disagreement within his administration over whether that is the best way forward.

A senior administration official said the administration was considering Oct. 12 for Trump to give a speech on Iran but no final decisions have been made.

Supporters of the deal say its collapse could trigger a regional arms race and worsen Middle East tensions. Opponents say it went too far in easing sanctions without requiring that Iran end its nuclear program permanently.

The ambassadors have said the deal’s demise would be a major loss that could lead to increased enrichment by Iran and weaken international proliferation efforts as the world grapples with a growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States should consider staying in the deal unless it were proven that Tehran was not abiding by the agreement.

Mattis said Iran was “fundamentally” in compliance with the agreement.

Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump would be presented with multiple options regarding the future of the nuclear pact.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the suspension of international sanctions that were choking its economy. If Trump declines to certify, it could pave the way for Congress to vote to resume those sanctions, killing the deal.

Some Republicans argue that Trump can decertify because he does not believe the agreement is in the national security interest. That, they said, would increase pressure on Tehran because Congress could threaten to re-impose sanctions if Iran does not agree to a more restrictive deal.

Iran has said it may abandon the nuclear deal it reached with the major world powers if the United States decides to withdraw from it.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish)