HELLO, YEAH IT’S BEEN AWHILE. NOT MUCH, HOW ’BOUT YOU? At 1:30 a.m. Washington time (3:30 p.m. in Korea), a phone line dormant for two years crackled to life with a brief exchange between North and South Korean technicians, who conducted a test of the hotline in the latest evidence of the slightest of thaws in the tensions between the two Koreas. The reestablishment of the cross-border communications link, established in 1971, comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has also accepted the South’s offer to conduct “high-level talks” on Jan. 9 in the Demilitarized Zone.
“Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see!,” tweeted President Trump yesterday on the news of the restoration of the border hotline. The hotline is basically just a set of phones between two buildings in the Panmunjom peace village, and for years most of the communication was just a daily comms check between low-level military officials stationed at the DMZ.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER: “Kim Jong Un may be trying to drive a wedge of some sort between the two nations, between our nation and the Republic of Korea,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “I can assure you that that will not happen.” At yesterday’s State briefing, Nauert said, “We are very skeptical of Kim Jong Un's sincerity in sitting down and having talks. Our policy hasn't changed, the South Koreans' policy has not changed. We both support a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, as, frankly, does the world.”
FOR NOW, IT’S ABOUT THE OLYMPICS: The agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting is basically about whether North Korea will participate in next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in the South. A pair of North Korean figure skaters have qualified, and could make up the North Korean Olympic “team.” South Korean Minister of Unification Cho Myoung Gyon told reporters Seoul is “open to talking with North Korea, regardless of time, location and form.”
Asked yesterday whether the talks are a “big deal,” one Pentagon official said, “Oh yeah.” If the talks proceed, it would mark the first dialogue between the two countries since December 2015.
MINE’S BIGGER: But the presidential tweet that has everyone talking is Trump’s in-your-face taunt that his nuclear button is bigger and better than Kim’s. “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
‘ALMOST A MANHOOD THING’: The twitter taunt, with its schoolyard flavor, drew quick condemnation from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on CNN. “It would almost be amusing if it weren't for the gravity of the subject,” said Clapper, who is now a CNN contributor. “When we're casually back and forth by whatever means, kind of a dueling banjo, who has the greatest, the bigger male appendage it's also almost a manhood thing, when there are potentially millions of lives at stake, an untold death and destruction here and to me it's very, very disturbing.”
REGIME CHANGE? NOT QUITE: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is calling for an emergency United Nations session to address the days of street protests in Iran, but stopped short of calling for regime change. "The U.N. must speak out," Haley said yesterday. "We must not be silent. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom."
“The U.S. is watching!” Trump tweeted yesterday. “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights.”
TURNING CARROTS INTO STICKS: Haley also confirmed the U.S. is following up on its threat to cut off foreign aid to countries who don’t do our bidding. Haley told reporters at the U.N. yesterday that the president has suspended $255 million in payment to Pakistan and is willing to go further, including a total cut-off. "The president is willing to go to great lengths to stop all funding from Pakistan as they continue to harbor and support terrorism," she said.
PALESTINIANS, YOU’RE NEXT: The president also warned the Palestinians they will get the same treatment if they don’t start negotiating with Israel in good faith. “We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted. “They don't even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel… with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Curiously Trump contradicted both Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who have both said Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital did not resolve the future status of the city. “We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table,” Trump tweeted.
BLACKMAIL! As you might expect, Palestinian officials were outraged by Trump’s threat, calling it “blackmail,” according to the AP. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ office said. “Jerusalem is not for sale, neither for gold nor silver.” A spokesman for Abbas said that “if the United States is keen on its interests in the Middle East, it must implement the international resolutions which call for a state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Good Wednesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
HAPPENING TODAY: With the Jan. 19 expiration date hanging over their heads like a sword of Damocles, some senior White House officials are scheduled to head to Hill today to start trying to figure out how to get a real budget passed three months into the fiscal year. There is much to talk about. Democrats want a deal to allow so-called “dreamers” to stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and Republicans need to find a way to raise the spending caps to make Trump’s almost $700 billion defense budget a reality. Trump is also expected to host congressional leaders at Camp David this weekend to continue talks.
Trump took a combative stance on Twitter yesterday, accusing the Democrats of “doing nothing for DACA” and saying they were just interested in politics. Trump predicted, “DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start ‘falling in love’ with Republicans and their President!”
LUNCH BUNCH: There will be a lot of meaty subjects to discuss during today’s private White House lunch. The official White House schedule shows the president breaking bread with Vice President Mike Pence, Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
ROOD NOMINATION VOTE: The Senate will gavel back into session today at noon and is planning to vote around 5:30 p.m. on the nomination of John Rood, who Trump has picked to be undersecretary of defense for policy. He will be the first Defense Department nominee the chamber considers in 2018. Since Trump took office almost a year ago, the Senate has confirmed administration nominees for 32 of the 57 total department positions it has purview over.
1ST COMBAT CASUALTIES OF THE YEAR: Just a few hours into the new year, the U.S. took its first combat casualties of 2018, when one soldier was killed and four other service members were wounded in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban. The “combat engagement” took place Monday in Achin, Nangarhar Province, a Taliban stronghold. Two of the wounded U.S. troops were treated nearby and are in stable condition, and two more have returned to duty, according to a release from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has not yet identified the soldier killed in action, but New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker identified him as Army Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, of Fort Lee. "We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own,” said Gen. John Nicholson, commander of USFOR-A. "At this very difficult time our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of our fallen and wounded brothers." Fifteen U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan in 2017, according to icasualties.org, and at least seven died in Nangarhar.
THE WAR IN SOMALIA: In one of America’s other wars, U.S. forces conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab militants in Somalia yesterday morning. The airstrike targeted a bomb-laden vehicle about 30 miles west of the capital of Mogadishu. A release from U.S. Africa Command says two terrorists were killed and their vehicle destroyed, preventing it from being used against the people in Mogadishu. The U.S. says no civilians were killed in the strike.
TRANSGENDER RECRUITS STEP FORWARD: An Ohio man aiming to become one of the military’s first transgender recruits said he spoke with his recruiter Tuesday and worked to finalize his enlistment paperwork. Nicolas Talbott, 24, has been poised to enlist for a year and now hopes to schedule an appointment at a military entrance processing station after the Trump administration dropped its legal effort Friday to delay transgender recruiting. “I spoke with my recruiter today and am completing paperwork needed to enlist. I’ve been working with this particular recruiter for the past year, and we are really excited to move forward with this process,” Talbott said. “This is a historic day for the military and for transgender Americans.”
At the stations, applicants are given a standard aptitude test and a physical to see if they qualify to join the military. At least one other prospective transgender service member was set to meet with a recruiter this week to start the process, according to rights groups. The Pentagon sent out guidance to tens of thousands of recruiters and medical examiners last month to prepare them for the military’s first transgender applications. But the Justice Department has said it will continue to defend Trump’s announced transgender military service ban as federal district court lawsuits in D.C., Maryland, California, and Washington state proceed. Talbott is a transgender plaintiff in the Stockman v. Trump lawsuit filed in California Sept. 5.
McCAIN UPDATE: CNN is quoting sources close to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain as saying the ailing senator plans to return to Washington soon. The 81-year-old McCain is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. Yesterday, his daughter Meghan McCain told the audience of ABC's "The View" that her father is "doing good" as he continues physical therapy in Arizona.
On Sunday, McCain’s close friend Sen. Lindsey Graham said on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” “Senator McCain is in rehab. He’s coming back in January. We need his voice now more than ever.”
THAT SAILOR TRUMP TWEETED ABOUT: In yet another tweet yesterday, Trump complained there’s a double standard in the government’s treatment of Hillary Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin, compared to the case of Kristian Saucier, a former Navy sailor jailed for taking six photos inside a submarine, Steven Nelson writes. Saucier, 31, was released from prison in September after receiving a one-year sentence for mishandling classified information. With a felony conviction, he now works up to 70 hours a week collecting garbage in Vermont.
“Obviously with his tweet today he still recognizes my case, so hopefully he will do something about it. I think my family and I have been punished enough," Saucier told the Washington Examiner. "I made an innocent mistake as a kid, it wasn’t planned like Hillary Clinton and them blatantly flouting the law." The home where Saucier lives with his wife and two-year-old daughter is in foreclosure and credit card debt collectors call frequently. His cars were repossessed while he was in prison and the family has a payment plan for their electricity bill.
Wall Street Journal: Islamic State Returns to Guerrilla Warfare in Iraq and Syria
AP: Top US Commander Wants More Aggressive Afghan Push This Year
USA Today: Analysis: Trump insists response to Iran protests will be different than Obama's. Will it work?
Washington Post: NSA’s top talent is leaving because of low pay, slumping morale and unpopular reorganization
USNI News: NAVSEA: FY 2019 Navy Budget Request Will Include More Shipbuilding, Life Extensions to Help Grow Fleet
Defense One: Kim Jong Un's Trap for South Korea
Bloomberg: Trump’s Strategy To Knock Out North Korean Missiles Carries Risk
Reuters: Iran's leader blames enemies for deadly unrest, U.S. calls that 'nonsense'
New York Times: Kim Jong-un Goes Dapper, Updating His Style Along With His Arsenal
Defense Tech: 'Saving Guys on the Ground': A-10 Documentary Shows Stunning Mission
Foreign Policy: The Lost Children of ISIS
Defense News: Russia’s radar shortcomings are a US problem now
Daily Beast: The Iran Nuclear Deal Could Be Dead in 11 Days
New York Times: Rolling Protests In Iran Lay Bare Power Struggle
Washington Post: How South Korea’s missile defense may be hurting Hyundai
Army Times: Watch: Soldiers shoot the Army’s new handgun for the first time
Stars and Stripes: No-Drone Zone: Defense Department Studies Unauthorized Flights Near Pentagon
THURSDAY | JAN. 4
11 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Crashback: The Power Clash Between the U.S. and China in the Pacific. heritage.org
1 p.m. Senate Visitor Center 209-08. Mitchell Hour discussion on threats to air supremacy with Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, and Lt. Gen. VeraLinn "Dash" Jamieson, deputy chief of staff for ISR. mitchellaerospacepower.org
3 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific Strategy. hudson.org
FRIDAY | JAN. 5
9 a.m. 1800 M St. NW. The Iran Protests: Implications for the Islamic Republic and Beyond. defenddemocracy.org
MONDAY | JAN. 8
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Confronting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs: American and Japanese views of threats and options compared. brookings.edu
1 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Caught in Conflict: Working to Prevent the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers with retired Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, served as the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. stimson.org
3 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Fourteen Points: World War One and Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy 100 Years Later. csis.org
4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Discussion of “Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism: U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015” with author Melvyn Leffler. wilsoncenter.org
6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Book launch of The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam by Max Boot. cfr.org
TUESDAY | JAN. 9
8 a.m. 1919 North Lynn St. Procurement Division Meeting. ndia.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. What to Worry About in 2018 with former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. cfr.org
2 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Security Challenges in East Asia. wilsoncenter.org
WEDNESDAY | JAN. 10
12 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Realizing A Free and Peaceful Indo-Pacific. hudson.org
1 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. With Great Power: Modifying U.S. Arms Sales to Reduce Civilian Harm. stimson.org