Biden told Israel’s PM the IRGC will stay on terrorism blacklist- POLITICO

With help from Lara Seligman and Daniel Lippman

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President JOE BIDEN has finalized his decision to keep Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on a terrorist blacklist, according to a senior Western official, further complicating international efforts to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Another person familiar with the matter said Biden conveyed his decision during an April 24 phone call with Israeli Prime Minister NAFTALI BENNETT, adding that the decision was relayed as absolutely final and that the window for Iranian concessions had closed.

After their conversation, Bennett said in a statement: “I am sure that President Biden, who is a true friend of Israel and cares about its security, will not allow the IRGC to be removed from the list of terrorist organizations.” The White House’s readout said the two leaders spoke about “the threat posed by Iran and its proxies.”

The United States placed the IRGC on its “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” list in 2019. The designation was part of the “maximum pressure” campaign then-President DONALD TRUMP imposed on Iran after pulling the United States out of the nuclear deal, which had restricted Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iranian officials want the United States to lift the terror label before Tehran returns to compliance with the nuclear deal. But the United States has refused to do so, unless Iran offers some security-related concessions beyond the nuclear agreement.

U.S. officials point out that the IRGC terrorist designation was technically never part of the nuclear deal itself, and they say that the deal could be restored with the designation still in place. But supporters of a return to the deal argue that the terror label was among a host of non-nuclear penalties Trump imposed on Tehran partly to make it politically and legally harder to revive the agreement.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said, “We do not comment on private diplomatic discussions.” The Israeli prime minister’s office didn’t respond to requests for official comment. Rob Malley, Biden’s special envoy for the Iran talks, is due to testify before U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday about the status of the negotiations.

In recent weeks, Biden administration officials have signaled they are increasingly less likely to even consider lifting the terrorist designation, especially as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have warned against doing so.

A bipartisan supermajority of U.S. senators earlier this month supported a resolution that opposed lifting sanctions on the IRGC and declared that any nuclear deal with Tehran should also deal with Iran’s backing of terrorist activity.

The news that Biden told Bennett and other foreign counterparts that he doesn’t plan to remove the IRGC from the terrorist list will make it even harder to backtrack.

“The U.S. position has been that unless Iran agrees to take certain steps to assuage security concerns beyond the JCPOA, Washington will not lift the terror designation, which itself is beyond the JCPOA,” a U.S. official familiar with the issue told POLITICO last month, using an acronym for the deal’s official name: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The official made clear the administration’s position wasn’t going to change, “especially given ongoing threats by the IRGC against [Americans].”

Read Alex and Nahal’s full story.

CHINESE AND RUSSIAN BOMBERS FLY NEAR JAPAN: China and Russia held their first military drill since the invasion of Ukraine, coming when Biden just so happens to be in Asia building closer ties to allies.

“The bombers flew over the Sea of Japan early Tuesday and continued south toward the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea,” The New York Times’ EDWARD WONG reported. “South Korea issued a statement hours later confirming the exercise, saying that two Chinese military aircraft and four Russian warplanes had entered its air defense identification zone off the country’s east coast, without intruding into its airspace.”

Both Japan and South Korea scrambled fighter jets to protect against any potential incursions and surveil the warplanes.

“We regard the military exercise conducted in the midst of the summit meeting between Japan, the United States, Australia and India as intending to show a demonstration of force against Japan, which hosted the meeting,” NOBUO KISHI, Japan’s defense minister, told reporters, per Wong.

NEW RUSSIAN INVASION OF UKRAINE?: Russia is once again massing troops and equipment on its side of the border with Ukraine’s Chernihiv region, worrying the Ukrainian troops that initially pushed the Russians away after weeks of brutal fighting.

“[W]e are preparing for a possible reinvasion,” OLEKSANDR VADOVSKY, deputy commander of the Chernihiv region’s border guards, told The Washington Post’s MAX BEARAK. “They are attacking our positions and towns. [The Russians] have no concept of the rules of engagement.”

Vadovsky added that between two and eight shells land in the region every day while his troops return fire into Russian territory.

“The same dynamic is playing out in the neighboring Sumy region, which the Russians vacated around the same time as Chernihiv. And in Kharkiv, as Ukrainian forces push the Russians back to the border, local officials said they expect the war there, too, to transform into one where defensive preparations replace pitched battles,” Bearak wrote.

In other words, the Russians may be down, but they’re not out — at least not yet.

SPEC OPS TO KYIV?: The Biden administration is considering sending special operations forces to Ukraine to provide security for the embassy, defense officials tell our own LARA SELIGMAN.

U.S. Marines typically guard embassies, but they may not be suited for the Kyiv mission due to the sensitivity of the situation on the ground, one official said. Special operations forces are more low-profile and provide additional capabilities, such as communications and medical. The Ukrainians are currently providing local security for the small contingent of U.S. diplomats expected to staff the embassy in the coming weeks.

The concern is that the reintroduction of U.S. troops to Ukraine might be provocative. But no final decision has been made yet, officials said.

The discussions are happening at a “relatively low level,” Gen. MARK MILLEY, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday, adding that the plans had not made it to his or Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN’s desks.

“At the end of the day any reintroduction of U.S. forces into Ukraine would require a presidential decision,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal’s GORDON LUBOLD, COURTNEY McBRIDE and WARREN STROBEL first reported the news.

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XINJIANG POLICE FILES: A massive trove of data was hacked from police servers in Xinjiang and leaked to the media, leading to what’s known as the “Xinjiang Police Files” showing the faces of thousands of prisoners and details of a shoot-to-kill program.

“The cache reveals, in unprecedented detail, China’s use of ‘re-education’ camps and formal prisons as two separate but related systems of mass detention for Uyghurs,” wrote the BBC, part of a consortium of outlets working on the story. “The documents provide some of the strongest evidence to date for a policy targeting almost any expression of Uyghur identity, culture or Islamic faith — and of a chain of command running all the way up to the Chinese leader, XI JINPING.”

The hacked files contain more than 5,000 pictures of detained Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018. Among the pictured was RAHILE OMER, the youngest person in the files at only 15 years old at the time of her detention. Furthermore, the cache contains police protocols showing the positions of weaponry in the camps and the shoot-to-kill policy for those trying to escape the so-called “schools.”

The hacked documents were sent to ADRIAN ZENZ of the U.S.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and then he shared them with the media.

The Chinese government has long denied that it’s imprisoning Uyghurs against their will despite very clear evidence. After the story broke, China’s ambassador to the U.K., ZHENG ZEGUANG, tweeted: “Such a shame for BBC to carry the fabricated story about so-called ‘detention camps.’ Pathetic for the media, in cahoots with the notorious rumour monger, to once again spread disinformation about Xinjiang.”

ISIS PLOT TO KILL BUSH: A man affiliated with ISIS was arrested for attempting to kill former President George W. Bush, Fox News’ ANDREW MARK MILLER and BILL MEARS reported.

“[T]he suspect, identified as SHIHAB AHMED SHIHAB, was arrested and is due in federal court in Columbus, Ohio shortly where he will appear before a federal magistrate on charges related to his involvement in the plot,” they wrote. “An FBI search warrant application filed on March 23 in the Southern District of Ohio showed that a suspect affiliated with ISIS traveled to Dallas, Texas to record video around Bush’s home and recruited help from individuals he intended to smuggle into the United States across the southern border, according to Forbes.”

“The FBI said it uncovered the scheme through the work of two confidential informants and surveillance of the alleged plotter’s account on the Meta-owned WhatsApp messaging platform,” reported Forbes’ THOMAS BREWSTER, who broke the story.

“The U.S. Secret Service takes all threats to our protectees seriously,” Secret Service spokesperson Special Agent STEVE KOPEK told FNC in a statement. “In order to maintain operational security, the Secret Service does not discuss the means and methods used to conduct our protective operations or matters of protective intelligence.”

SENATE DEMS: USG IN DARK ON RANSOMWARE: The U.S. government doesn’t fully understand the scale and breadth of ransomware attacks across the country, per a new report released today by Senate Democrats, complicating efforts to curb the growing problem.

“There is a lack of comprehensive data on the amount of ransomware attacks and use of cryptocurrency as ransom payments in these attacks,” reads the report led by Sen. GARY PETERS (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “The lack of data on ransomware attacks and cryptocurrency ransom payments blunts the effectiveness of available tools for fighting ransomware attacks including U.S. sanctions, law enforcement efforts, and international partnerships, among other tools.”

In 2021, the FBI reported that it had received 3,729 ransomware complaints with adjusted losses nearly totaling $50 million. The problem is the agency finds that number to be “artificially low” due to a lack of reporting.

To fix the problem, Peters and his Democratic staff recommend a new ransomware reporting mandate and a standardization of data, among other things.

NEW BASE NAMES: A congressional panel has recommended a new set of names of U.S. military bases that honor Confederates. They are:

  • Fort A.P. Hill, Va., to Fort Walker, for Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
  • Fort Benning, Ga., to Fort Moore, after Hal and Julia Moore
  • Fort Bragg, N.C., to Fort Liberty
  • Fort Gordon, Ga., to Fort Eisenhower, for President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Fort Hood, Texas, to Fort Cavazos, for Richard Cavazos
  • Fort Lee, Va., to Fort Gregg-Adams, for Arthur Gregg and Charity Adams
  • Fort Pickett, Va., to Fort Barfoot, for Van Barfoot
  • Fort Polk, La., to Fort Johnson, for William Henry Johnson
  • Fort Rucker, Ala., to Fort Novosel, for Michael Novosel

AIRBUS WINS CLS ARMY CONTRACT: The U.S. Army gave Airbus a contract worth up to $1.5 billion “to provide spare parts, material, and engineering support for the Army’s entire UH-72A and UH-72B Lakota fleet of 482 utility and training helicopters,” per a news release.

In the Contractor Logistics Support contract, Airbus “will provide support across 67 Lakota sites in the U.S. and overseas. This includes National Guard bases in 43 states, and Fort Rucker in Alabama, where the UH-72A performs the Army’s Initial Entry Rotary Wing mission.”

NANO DRONES TO ARMY: Teledyne FLIR Defense has won another $14 million contract to deliver Black Hornet 3 Personal Reconnaissance Systems to the U.S. Army, per a news release. The small UAVs assist small units with surveillance and reconnaissance.

“In late 2018 the U.S. Army began acquiring Black Hornet 3s,” reads the release. “Since then, it has placed orders totaling nearly $115 million for the multi-faceted nano drone.”

HASC CHAIR WANTS TO KEEP BIDEN’S BUDGET: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report that Rep. ADAM SMITH (D-Wash.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, wants to keep the president’s defense budget request right where it is.

“I am 100 percent confident that we can do an outstanding job of meeting our national security needs for $813 billion,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday. “I have no doubt whatsoever. We’ve got to get better at how we spend it.”

Smith has shied away from saying what top line he will endorse for the NDAA. But last year he unsuccessfully fought a push to add $25 billion. He will likely face a similar predicament this year as GOP lawmakers call for a 5 percent post-inflation boost over Biden’s level.

Smith also predicted there will be “tough fights” over nuclear weapons, including Biden’s plans to cancel a sub-launched cruise missile and scrap the B83 gravity bomb.

“There’s a mood in Congress that basically whatever the weapon is, we have to build it,” he said. “I’m worried that we’re going to have a hard time making that case and succeeding in it.”

BIDEN SAID HE DIDN’T END ‘STRATEGIC AMBIGUITY’: Biden did not take kindly to the idea that he killed “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan with his Monday comments.

Asked if his Monday comments meant a change in policy toward Taiwan, Biden said, “No.”

“The policy has not changed at all. I stated that when I made my statement yesterday,” he continued.

We hate to be a broken record, but the U.S. can maintain its One China policy and abide by the Taiwan Relations Act (and assurances and communiques) and still end strategic ambiguity by committing the U.S. to defend the democratic island if attacked.

The question was always, “Would the U.S. do something?” Now, Biden has made clear the U.S. will, though what exactly it will do remains, well, ambiguous.

UKRAINIANS SLAM KISSINGER: Prominent Ukrainian government officials are fiercely rebuking remarks — reported by the Daily Telegraph’s AMBROSE EVANS-PRITCHARD — that former Secretary of State HENRY KISSINGER made Monday about Russia’s invasion during a conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The 98-year-old American statesman suggested Ukraine should cede some of its territory to Russia in order to bring an end to the war and avoid humiliating Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN. “Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante,” Kissinger said, adding: “Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself.”

INNA SOVSUN, a member of Ukraine’s parliament and deputy head of its Voice political party, tweeted today that it’s “a pity” that Kissinger “believes that giving up on part of the sovereign territory is a way to peace for any country! Truly shameful!”

MYKHAILO PODOLYAK, an adviser to Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, joined in on the criticism, tweeting a photo of Kissinger shaking hands with Putin. “It’s good that Ukrainians in the trenches do not have time for listening to ‘Davos panickers’. They’re a little bit busy defending Freedom and Democracy,” Podolyak wrote.

— TIM MAURER is now director for technology and democracy at the National Security Council. He most recently was senior counselor for cybersecurity and emerging technology to Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS.

— CHRIS GOBER, SIMONE LEDEEN and JOHN LAPPE have founded the due diligence and risk analysis consulting firm Vantage Point. Gober is the founder and managing partner of the Gober Group law firm. Ledeen previously served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Middle East policy in the Trump administration. Lappe previously ran a research and due diligence firm.

GINA FARANDA, a career civil servant, assumed the position of deputy assistant secretary of State for analysis and production in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. She is the first woman to hold that role in INR’s 76 years.

— JOSH HOLDER, MARCO HERNANDEZ and JON HUANG, The New York Times:Russia’s Shrinking War

— MAX COLCHESTER and MARGOT PATRICK, The Wall Street Journal:Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich’s Offshore Wealth Is Focus of New Probe

— SARAH SCOLES, Grid:Spies’ night eyes: Once-restricted tech is helping spot Russian troops, Chinese missile sites and raging wildfires

— The Defense Strategies Institute Group, 8:15 a.m.:Joint C2 Summit: Ensuring Decision Superiority in an All Domain Environment — with DAVID ALLVIN, FRANCIS A. ‘SKIP’ HISER, KEVIN MULVIHILL, MICHAEL J. SCHMIDT, ROBERT J. SKINNER and more”

— The Atlantic Council and the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue, 10 a.m.: The Future of Global Tech Security — with ALAN ESTEVEZ, BONNIE GLICK, KEITH KRACH and DAVID O. SHULLMAN

— The East-West Center in Washington, 10 a.m.:Balancing Diplomatic Priorities Across Multiple Interests: North Korea and Europe Relations — with KEITH LUSE, TEREZA NOVOTNÁ, RAMON PACHECO PARDO and ROSS TOKOLA 

— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 10 a.m.:Full Committee Hearing: The JCPOA Negotiations and United States’ Policy on Iran Moving Forward — with MARK DUBOWITZ, ROBERT MALLEY and KARIM SADJADPOUR

— The Atlantic Council, 10:30 a.m.:Ukraine Crisis: The African Answer — with MVEMBA DIZOLELE, EBENEZER OBADARE, ALOYSIUS UCHE ORDU, JULIAN PECQUET, JOSEPH SANY and RAMA YADE

— Foreign Policy and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, 11 a.m.:FP Virtual Dialogue: Tech Regulations — A National Security Threat? — with KLON KITCHEN, MAGGIE LAKE, JOHN NEGROPONTE, ANNA PUGLISI and ROSS SCHULMAN

— House Appropriations Committee, 11 a.m.: Subcommittee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the Federal Emergency Management Agency — with DEANNE CRISWELL

— The American Security Project, 12 p.m.:rEVolution: The Future of Electric Vehicles (EVs) and the Military — with STANLEY DARBRO, MICHAEL KNICKERBOCKER and JESSICA OLCOTT YLLEMO

— House Appropriations Committee, 12 p.m.: Subcommittee Hearing: Defense Health and Medical Readiness

— The Atlantic Council, 2 p.m.:Future Foreign Policy: The Global South’s Responses to the Ukraine Crisis — with AUDE DARNAL, TOM LONG, AMIN MOHSENI-CHERAGHLOU and CHRISTOPHER PREBLE

— The East-West Center in Washington, 2 p.m.:The East-West Center’s Southeast Asian Ocean Professionals Program Dialogue 2022

— House Appropriations Committee, 2 p.m.:Subcommittee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the United States Secret Service — with JAMES MURRAY

— Israel Policy Forum, 2 p.m.: One Year Later: Reflecting on Sheikh Jarrah and the 2021 War with Hamas — with MICHAEL KOPLOW, EZZELDEEN MASRI and NOA SHUSTERMAN

— The Jewish Institute for National Security of America, 2 p.m.:Time for Plan B on Iran

— Senate Appropriations Committee, 2 p.m.:Subcommittee Hearing: A Review of the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 Funding Request for the Federal Bureau of Investigation — with CHRISTOPHER WRAY

— The Atlantic Council, 2:30 p.m.: The Future of Artificial Intelligence in National Security and Defense — with JAIME FITZGIBBON, MICHAEL S. GROEN, LEE HUDSON, MARGARITA KONAEV, JUSTIN LYNCH and more”

— Senate Appropriations Committee, 2:30 p.m.: Subcommittee Hearing: Review of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the U.S. Agency for International Development — with SAMANTHA POWER

— Senate Appropriations Committee, 3:45 p.m.:Subcommittee Hearing: Review of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the Capitol Police, Library of Congress and the Comptroller General of the United States — with GENE DODARO, CARLA D. HAYDEN and J. THOMAS MANGER

— Council for a Livable World, 7 p.m.:Nuclear Justice and the Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons: A Conversation with Rep. KATIE PORTER — with JOHN TIERNEY

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, who also doesn’t have the patience to deal with us “Davos panickers.”

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