With help from Andrew Desiderio, Daniel Lippman , Paul McLeary and Lee Hudson.
Welcome to National Security Daily, your guide to the global events roiling Washington and keeping the administration up at night.
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The progressive wing of the Democratic Party took its biggest collective stand on key U.S. foreign policy issues this week, proving themselves as a force that will challenge national security orthodoxy and their own leadership for months to come.
National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN arrived in the Middle East today for a series of meetings on two major flashpoints: Yemen and Iran.
In both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Sullivan will among other topics “discuss security cooperation, mutual support for a comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen and the need for immediate steps to mitigate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis,” as well as “the nuclear and regional dimensions of the threat posed by Iran [and] de-escalation in the Middle East,” a senior administration official told NatSec Daily.
Sullivan will have a high-profile meeting with Saudi Crown Prince MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN, the architect of the Yemen war and who the Biden administration said authorized the plot to kill Saudi dissident JAMAL KHASHOGGI. In that meeting, Sullivan — alongside the NSC’s top Middle East official, BRETT MCGURK, and the U.S. special envoy for Yemen TIM LENDERKING — plans to make some tough asks of the Saudis, a person familiar with the delegation’s plans said. “The goal is to get to a ceasefire.”
NSC spokesperson EMILY HORNE released a terse statement about the trip this morning. It didn’t note the cities the American delegation would visit, how long the trip would last, officials they’d meet with, or if they’d be traveling to other countries.
But the senior administration official your host spoke with said these meetings are “the next evolution of recent engagements.” Lenderking was in Saudi Arabia and Oman over the last two weeks, the official said, also noting that Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN participated in a ministerial meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council last week at UNGA. “This visit follows on that work.”
The sojourn comes at an awkward time, though. A bill introduced by Rep. RO KHANNA (D-Calif.) to end U.S. logistical and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia in Yemen narrowly passed by a 219-207 margin last week in the House. If that amendment ends up in the final National Defense Authorization Action and President JOE BIDEN signs it, then the U.S. will have all but extricated itself from the war. Sullivan previously supported America’s defunding of the fight as a private citizen before joining the Biden administration.
Another senior administration official said Sullivan told House progressives he would go to the region and push for a resolution on Yemen, “but there is no imminent breakthrough” on the horizon. Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and a prominent progressive, has been in contact via telephone calls and text with all the delegation members and Blinken ahead of the trip, a person familiar said.
And the Biden administration is losing its patience with Iran since there have been no nuclear talks in Vienna for the last three months. A senior State Department official told reporters last week that “the window of opportunity is open and won’t be open forever if Iran takes a different course.”
These meetings, then, might be “the next evolution” in tense Yemen and Iran-related diplomacy, but failure to make progress could backfire on key aspects of Biden’s foreign policy.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY – NEW 5G BILL FOR COOPERATION WITH EUROPEAN ALLIES: Tomorrow, Sens. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.) and ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio) — both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — will introduce legislation that would authorize the U.S. Development Finance Corporation to provide financing to European allies to strengthen their 5G networks and digital infrastructure. The goal is to safeguard European telecommunications from growing threats emanating from China and Russia.
The “Transatlantic Telecommunications Security Act,” obtained exclusively by NatSec Daily, if passed would provide support for building or improving telecommunications infrastructure while replacing covered Huawei telecommunications equipment or services.
This is a more direct approach for the U.S. In recent years, Washington has discouraged European allies from doing business with Chinese firms like Huawei or ZTE. This effort instead provides support to European nations to invest in their own telecommunications systems to keep them safe.
This bill is a companion to a House effort that the House Foreign Affairs Committee is currently marking up.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY – VOTEVETS URGES CLIMATE ACTION: The progressive veterans group VoteVets will today send a letter to Democratic caucus members pushing them to “prioritize climate policy priorities in the Build Back Better agenda.”
Eleven retired military leaders, led by retired Maj. Gen. PAUL EATON, signed the letter saying the effects of climate change are “an active attack well underway, and it demands immediate, bold action. Anything less will be a surrender, and that simply cannot be an option.”
The Pentagon will be receptive to the letter, obtained exclusively by NatSec Daily, since Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN called climate change an existential threat back in April. But it’s unclear if the administration will get all the billions it seeks to combat climate change in the $3.5 trillion budget.
That’s why the former military officers are upping the pressure. “Climate change is a long-term systemic threat to modern civilization, as well as to U.S. national security,” retired Gen. WESLEY CLARK, one of the signees and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told your host. “We are far too slow in addressing the challenge.”
U.S. EVACUATED 85 AMERICAN CITIZENS: A senior State Department official told reporters today that the administration has evacuated “at least 85 US citizens and 79 legal permanent residents” from Afghanistan since the military mission ended on Aug. 31. The number for both categories may be higher, though, as there are Americans and LPRs who chose other ways out instead of taking a U.S.-organized flight.
STATE SPOX TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19: In a tweet, State Department spokesperson NED PRICE said he tested positive for Covid-19 and will now quarantine for the next 10 days. “I’m feeling under the weather but am grateful for the protection from severe illness offered by safe and effective vaccines,” he wrote.
WAS JETZT FÜR DEUTSCHLAND?: The voters in Germany’s massive Sunday elections “have delivered a more fragmented political landscape than ever before, making coalition-building even harder than after previous elections,” LAURENZ GEHRKE of POLITICO Europe reported.
The CDU’s ARMIN LASCHET and the SPD’s OLAF SCHOLZ are both in the running to succeed Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL, but that will only come after some high-stakes coalition building. Both sides have already ruled out governing with each other, so it could be a long time before somebody forms a government in Europe’s most powerful country.
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TURKEY SET TO BUY RUSSIAN MISSILES AGAIN: Turkish President RECEP TAYYIP ERDOĞAN said his country, a NATO ally, has no qualms about once again purchasing S-400 missiles from Russia.
“I explained everything to President Biden,” he told CBS News’ MARGARET BRENNAN on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “[N]obody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defense systems we acquire, from which country, at what level. Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions.” Erdoğan then said he plans to meet with Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN later this month to discuss Syria, among other matters.
The impending move will further chafe officials in Washington who want Ankara to stop acquiring Russia’s S-400, as they say the system threatens NATO’s security and the F-35. The U.S. has sanctioned Turkey over the issue, and Biden has tried and failed to change Erdoğan’s mind.
NEW CRYPTOCURRENCY BILL: Sens. MAGGIE HASSAN (D-N.H.) and JONI ERNST (R-Iowa) introduced legislation that requires the Treasury Department report on how other nations regulate cryptocurrencies and the vulnerabilities those monies create, our own SAM SABIN exclusively reports in POLITICO’S “Morning Cybersecurity” newsletter.
“In order to strengthen U.S. competitiveness, our government must get a better handle on the role that cryptocurrency is playing in the global economy and how it is being leveraged by other countries,” Hassan said in a statement. “I’m glad to partner across the aisle with Senator Ernst to help ensure that the Treasury Department stays on top of the use of cryptocurrency, including how it can impact our supply chains.”
Per Sabin: “Cybersecurity experts have long-called for regulation of the cryptocurrency industry as cybercriminals lean on the digital currency for things like ransom payments. And last week, the Treasury Department started its crackdown of exchanges that facilitate cybercrime when it sanctioned Suex. Hassan’s office also has been taking more of an interest in cryptocurrencies’ use in cybercrime: Earlier this month, the senator sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, IRS, SEC and IRS asking for more information about how they investigate the issue.”
POST-AUKUS COMPLEXITIES: Soothing French anger over losing their deal to sell 12 submarines to Australia will take time, and lots and lots of work. But sharing nuclear and non-nuclear submarine technology with Australia will take years longer, and be much more complicated, writes our own PAUL MCLEARY.
The last time Washington shared the secrets of its nuclear submarine fleet with an ally was 1958, when the British were brought into the club.
Over the next 18 months, Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. will hack through complicated legal negotiations, McLeary noted, including significant changes to an Australian shipyard to handle nuclear work, and coordinating with an already strained American shipbuilding industry to share the workload.
“There’s clearly going to be some congressional action,” Rep. JOE COURTNEY (D-Conn.) said, which will have to include updating export control rules.
But sharing nuclear technology is only part of it. “It’s the unclassified stuff that’s going to trip them up because that’s what the State Department cares about,” said WILLIAM GREENWALT, a former deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial policy. “It’s not just the nuclear plant, which I think can be dealt with, it’s everything on the submarine. Our export control laws are so complicated” that it will be a huge effort to get parts and spares into the hands of the Australians.
CLASSIFIED NS2 BRIEFING: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday will hold a classified session on Nord Stream 2 and other issues with AMOS HOCHSTEIN, a senior adviser for energy security at the State Department.
This will be a contentious hearing, SFRC staffers told NatSec Daily. Not only is there bipartisan anger at the Biden administration for allowing Russia to complete its nearly done pipeline, but there’s also animosity directed at Sen. TED CRUZ (R-Texas) for putting a hold on State nominees over the president’s decision.
“I’m sure it won’t be a walk in the park,” said a senior Democratic aide, though the staffer noted the classified, behind-closed-doors briefing might lead Cruz to tone his theatrics down.
As an example of Cruz’s impact over NS2, Partnership for Public Service Vice President LOREN DEJONGE SCHULMAN pointed out Sunday that the Senate has only confirmed one ambassador to a country this year. One. At this point in their presidencies, GEORGE W. BUSH and BARACK OBAMA had close to 50 and DONALD TRUMP had around 20.
Even so, a senior GOP Senate aide bashed committee Democrats for allowing the session to proceed in a classified setting. “The only reason to make a briefing like this highly classified is if you don’t want Senators to dunk on you in exquisite detail for wasting their time. There is nothing he will tell Senators that everyone doesn’t already know,” the staffer said.
WSJ WORRIES ABOUT MENG DEAL PRECEDENT: “Westerners working in China are officially on notice. You could be arrested on trumped up charges at any time and used as hostages to promote Communist Party interests. That’s the message from the humiliating U.S. surrender to China’s hostage diplomacy in the case of Huawei chief financial officer MENG WANZHOU,” the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote today.
This is a concern NatSec Daily has heard often since Meng was released, prompting Chinese authorities to let go of MICHAEL SPAVOR and MICHAEL KOVRIG, two Canadians held since December 2018 on espionage charges. Basically, if the U.S. or a Western nation does something China doesn’t like, then China will respond in kind — even if it’s hostage taking.
The editorial board believes the conditions of Meng’s release were weak, thereby sending a message to Beijing “that the coercive diplomacy of hostage-taking gets results.”
— REBECCA INGBER is returning to the State Department as counselor on international law, she tweeted today. She previously joined the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in 2020 after serving at State as an attorney-adviser in the office of the legal adviser.
— CHRISTOPHER FORD is now a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Ford, who is also full-time at MITRE Labs as a distinguished policy adviser, most recently performed the duties of the under secretary of State for arms control and international security in the Trump administration.
— IMRAN KHAN, The Washington Post: “Don’t Blame Pakistan for the Outcome of the War in Afghanistan”
— ZACH DORFMAN, SEAN D. NAYLOR, and MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Yahoo! News: “Kidnapping, Assasination, and a London Shoot-out: Inside the CIA’s Secret War Plans Against Wikileaks”
— FIONA HILL, Foreign Affairs: “The Kremlin’s Strange Victory”
— The Atlantic Council, 9 a.m.: “Transitional Justice and Accountability in Libya — with KAMAL ABUBAKER, SAID BENARBIA, TAREK MEGERISI, MARWA MOHAMED and UZRA ZEYA”
— Chatham House, 9 a.m.: “The 2021 election — Germany after Merkel — with ROBIN ALEXANDER, KAI ARZHEIMER, SOPHIA BECKER, SUDHA DAVID-WILP and HANS KUNDNANI”
— The European Council on Foreign Relations, 9 a.m.: “Germany Under the Magnifying Glass: Day One — with PIOTR BURAS, AGNIESZKA LICHNEROWICZ, SEBASTIAN PŁÓCIENNIK and JOANNA MARIA STOLAREK”
— Senate Armed Services Committee, 9:30 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: To Receive Testimony on the Conclusion of Military Operations in Afghanistan and Plans for Future Counterterrorism Operations — with LLOYD AUSTIN, KENNETH MCKENZIE and MARK MILLEY”
— Chatham House, 10 a.m.: “Covid-19 and the Future of International Politics — with BRUNO MAÇÃES,HELEN THOMPSON, LESLIE VINJAMURI and THOMAS WRIGHT”
— The Heritage Foundation, 10 a.m.: “Securing America’s Waters: A Conversation with U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral KARL SCHULTZ — with JAMES DI PANE”
— House Foreign Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Strengthening the U.S. Ties With Southeast Asia — with MEREDITH MILLER and DAVID B. SHEAR”
— The Middle East Institute, 10 a.m.: “Prisoner Politics: Palestinians in Israeli Jails — with JAWAD BOULUS, KHALED ELGINDY, SAHAR FRANCIS and LARA FRIEDMAN”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with MARK GITENSTEIN and JACK A. MARKELL”
— The Atlantic Council, 10:45 a.m.: “2021 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum — with ROBERT ATKINSON, SEOKYOUNG CHOI, FREDERICK KEMPE, GEUN LEE and KIN W. MOY”
— Chatham House, 1 p.m.: “The Future of Europe Post-Brexit — with MICHEL BARNIER and ROBIN NIBLETT”
— House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Understanding the Conflict in Africa — with CHIDI BLYDEN, ROBERT GODEC, PETER MALNAK and JOSEPH SIEGLE”
— Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 2:30 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Existing Resources and Innovations Needed to Replace Legacy IT and Save Taxpayer Dollars”
— The Foreign Policy Research Institute, 3 p.m.: “The Meta-West as a Geopolitical System”
— The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 10:30 p.m.: “Women in Defence and Security Network Careers Event: Pathways and Opportunities in Defence and National Security — with ARIEL BOGLE, JOCELINN KANG, ASHLEIGH MCNEILL, ANURADHA MUNDKUR and BRIONY DALEY WHITWORTH”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor John Yearwood, whose diplomacy with us is always evolved.